In recent weeks, I've fielded several requests for gift ideas for graduating seniors, either from college or high school. Of course, my default answer is always: "books!" But I know it helps to be a little more specific.
Instead of buying a grad a gift card to a book retailer--although there's certainly nothing wrong with that!--think about the following gift ideas, instead. (And yeah, yeah, Dr. Seuss's Oh, The Places You'll Go is perennially appropriate; I got a cherished copy myself. But below, I've focused more on practical suggestions.)
For a high school grad, you can't go wrong with William Zinsser's timeless guide On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction. This is by far my favorite book on the craft of writing because the thesis is pretty much foolproof ("simplify, simplify, simplify"); the examples are amusing; and the advice successfully guided me through all of my college papers. I still consult my 25th Anniversary Edition, and now the 30th Anniversary Edition is on sale.
Any college grad should be happy to receive a cookbook. Boring, right?! Wrong. When I graduated from college, the last thing I wanted to spend precious cash on was a nice cookbook. (Silly, since what was I going to do. . . eat all my meals in restaurants?) Though we can all find recipes on the internet now, no sort of meal planning can beat flipping pages and seeing pretty pictures of potential dinners. Browse our cookbook archive for ideas. My first cookbook was from trusty Rachael Ray (30 Minute Meals), and I still use it all the time.
High school or college grads would be lucky to receive Manisha Thakor and Sharon Kedar's On My Own Two Feet: A Modern Girl's Guide to Personal Finance. As the title suggests, the intended audience for the book is women--the assumption being that more women than ever are in charge of their own or their family's finances--but I think the advice is universal. I'm usually skeptical of personal finance books, but Thakor and Kedar break down budget and savings plans and explain investing in terms that even a teen could understand. This book will make concepts like "saving for retirement" much easier to grasp. (For coupled readers, Thakor and Kedar have a new book out called Get Financially Naked: How to Talk Money with Your Honey.)
Do you have any suggestions for graduation gifts?
A Gate at the Stairs
by Lorrie Moore
Knopf, September 2009
So, I've been looking forward to reading A Gate at the Stairs since its fall publication, when it was described in BookPage as "solidly and delightfully Lorrie Moore territory; there’s the isolated, intelligent female narrator who both hides and survives through her humor and nonchalance; the Midwestern landscape that stretches with ennui and possibility; the pithy wordplay that is as haunting as it is lighthearted." The story is about Tassie, a 20-year-old girl who takes a job as a babysitter during winter vacation. Sarah, the woman who hires her, takes an immediate liking to Tassie and—oddly—asks her to "be there with us for everything, from the very first day." The excerpted passage is from Tassie's first outing with Sarah, who is adopting. They go to meet the birth mother (Amber) and adoption agency counselor (Letitia).
If you've never read Lorrie Moore before, or A Gate at the Stairs is on your TBR list, I encourage you to check out this novel—either now or in September, when the paperback comes out. Moore has a knack for describing bizarre situations that still feel instantly recognizable, and she's hilarious, to boot.
Things moved with swiftness and awkwardness both, like something simultaneously strong and broken. We hung up coats; we ordered; we ate; we made chitchat about the food and the snow. "Oh, there's my probation officer," Amber said, giggling; her face brightened, as if she had a little crush on him. "I think he sees us. He's sitting right over there by the window." We looked up to see the probation officer, his blue jacket still on, his bottomless Diet Coke stacked with ice. A going-to-seed hunk in a windbreaker: the world seemed full of them. We all just stared to buy ourselves time, I suppose, and to avoid the actual question of Amber's crimes.
Letitia began to speak to Sarah, on Amber's behalf. "Amber is happy to meet Tassie as well as you, Sarah." Here Amber looked across at me and rolled her eyes, as if we were two girls out with our embarrassing mothers. I had been noticing Amber's face, which was as lovely as advertised but sassy, with a strange electricity animating it, and with the missing teeth she seemed like a slightly educated hillbilly or an infant freak. her hair was a gingery blond, shoulder length, as straight and course as a horse's tail. "Amber is wondering, of course, about your religious plans for the baby. She is very interested in having the baby baptized Catholic, aren't you, Amber?"
"Oh, yeah," said Amber. "That's the whole point of this." She pulled out the front of her bulging stretchy sweater and let it snap back.
"And of course, she would hope you would have the child confirmed as well, when the time came."
"We could do that. We could definitely do that," Sarah said agreeably.
"Were you raised Catholic?" asked Amber.
"Uh, well, no, but my cousins were," said Sarah, as if this solved everything.
The Audie Awards were given out last night in New York City, and the biggest prize—Audiobook of the Year—went to Nelson Mandela's Favorite African Folktales. (Read more about this book and listen to an excerpt.)
Mandela and the 23 artists who participated in this recording must be pretty pleased to have beaten out the Bible and Patrick Swayze. We're guessing that the talented readers combined with the fact that 100% of the proceeds from the audiobook go to a nonprofit working in South Africa and the U.S. to combat HIV/AIDS and The Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, convinced judges that this one deserved the prize.
The newsletter debuts tomorrow morning. The first issue includes a super giveaway, an author interview (one hint: Stanley Yelnats), a behind-the-book essay and plenty of reviews. Sign up now, if you haven't already!
Here's a book deal many of you will like: Debut novelist Gabrielle Donnelly has sold a book called The Secret Lives of Sisters, which is inspired by Little Women and the descendants of Jo March.
Here's more from Publisher's Marketplace: "When one sister is at a crossroads in her life, she finds her great grandmother Jo's letters to Meg, Beth and Amy, and discovers Jo's secrets may hold the key to finding her own way in life."
Touchstone Firestone will publish the book in summer 2011.
Michael Joseph, an imprint of Penguin UK, bought the book rights back in early 2009. British publishing news site Bookseller.com reported on the plot:
Donnelly explores the issues facing "20-something women of the 21st century" by tracing the lives of the grand-daughters of Jo March, one of the key protagonists in Louisa May Alcott's 1868 novel Little Women.
Financial worries, career crises and relationship difficulties are contemplated by three sisters Joss, Sophie and Lulu, who discover their grandmother's letters in an attic. [Commissioning editor] Newhouse said Donnelly "stays faithful to the spirit of Little Women".
Does The Secret Lives of Sisters sound like something you would like?
Just out of curiosity, how many Book Case readers took off work today to read The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest? (Or maybe you're reading under your desk right now—or, most likely, watching the clock tick down until you can go home and read.) In any case, Happy Book Release Day! Judging from comments I've seen on this blog, many of you are very excited about this day. As Charles McGrath wrote in a lengthy article about Stieg Larsson in the New York Times,
Except for “Harry Potter,” Americans haven’t been so eager for a book since the early 1840s, when they thronged the docks in New York, hailing incoming ships for news of Little Nell in Charles Dickens’s “Old Curiosity Shop.”
Has anyone had a chance to start Hornet's Nest? What do you think? (No spoilers, please!)
Exciting news for Mark Twain fans—when he died in 1910, the author left behind hundreds of pages of an autobiography, complete with a stipulation that the book's publication be held until 100 years after his death.
Well, it's 2010, and on November 15 the University of California Press is releasing book one in the three-part series: Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume I: The Complete and Authoritative Edition. Here's a bit more from the publisher:
His innovative notion—to “talk only about the thing which interests you for the moment”—meant that his thoughts could range freely. The strict instruction that these texts remain unpublished for 100 years meant that when they came out, he would be “dead, and unaware, and indifferent” and therefore free to speak his “whole frank mind.”
Will you read Twain's uncensored bio?
If you think everyone interested in books will have one novel on the mind this week, you're probably right (hint: it starts with The Girl Who). But in case you're not a Larsson fan—or you were lucky enough to read an advanced copy of the novel—this week we're highlighting plenty of other books and genres on BookPage.com.
For those of you who do have Lisbeth Salander on the brain, we've got you covered, too. First up...
As you count down the minutes until tomorrow's release of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, read an interview with Knopf publisher and editor-in-chief Sonny Mehta, who introduced the works of Stieg Larsson to American readers.
If you're looking for an unusual memoir, try...
Vanessa Woods, an Australian chimp aficionado, had never heard of bonobos until she fell for Brian Hare, an American scientist whose dream is to compare the behavior of chimps and bonobos living in Congolese sanctuaries and figure out what the differences reveal about human evolution. Bonobo Handshake is Woods’ beguiling story of falling in love with bonobos and the Congo while her marriage to Hare matured.
Heading to the lake, beach or pool over Memorial Day weekend? Don't miss...
Romance columnist (and author) Christie Ridgway's book recommendations will start your summer with a sizzle! In her words: "With summer’s approach, it’s time for books destined to fill those long hours of daylight or the warmth of a flower-scented night with steamy stories. From regency to contemporary romances, this month’s selections really turn up the heat. Enjoy!"
Well, at least Abby and I are.
Sites like GalleyCat have asked what readers want to hear from the show floor. Not here: Given our already booked schedules and limited time at the show, our BEA postings will be dictated by our whims alone. But! We think you will enjoy them anyway.
On the schedule: more video author interviews for our YouTube channel; a Scholastic party for Suzanne Collins; a party at Zach Braff's apartment celebrating his brother Joshua Braff's new book; a trip to the Book Blogger Convention on Friday and much more. So stay tuned or follow BookPage on Twitter before the show starts on Wednesday! And if you'll be at BEA, stop by our booth (#4469) and say hi.
My "Best of the Blogs" posts are usually random, but this week I thought it'd be fun to spotlight a theme: the ever-popular top 5 lists.
Top 5 Children’s Books for Grown-Ups
Posted by Brain Pickings
There's nothing out of left field on this list, and I'd bet most of us have already read all 5 of these titles. But still, it's nice to be reminded of stories we loved as children, and the excerpts printed on the blog have inspired me to revisit these classics. Here's a quote from the #1 pick; can you guess the book? "Here is my secret. It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
Malcolm Gladwell’s Top 5 Novels of All Time
Posted by Read This
Short stories, a literary classic, spy thrillers. . . there's a lot of variety on Gladwell's list, and his comments on To Kill a Mockingbird fit nicely with the Top 5 Children's Books for Grown-Ups post: "I know, I know. Everyone read it as a kid. But I think it deserves to be read again, because if you read it closely, as an adult, all of a sudden a lot of what you thought was moving and beautiful turns out to be a bit creepy. That’s all I’m saying." When I read TKAM as an 8th grader I found certain parts disturbing, heartbreaking, funny—but never particularly creepy. (Well, Boo Radley was creepy.) Maybe it is time for another close read.
Yann Martel's Favorite Reads
Posted by The Daily Beast
If you've read Beatrice & Virgil, it'll come as no surprise that #1 on Martel's list is The Divine Comedy. Turns out he also loves Coetzee (his favorite living author) and Zora Neale Hurston.
What are your favorite book blog posts from the week? Seen any good top 5 lists?