If you need a moment to relax amidst holiday festivities, peruse these Christmas books from the BookPage archives.
Also: What are you reading over the long weekend? I’m diving into Chang-rae Lee’s The Surrendered (out in March 2010).
Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem by Maya Angelou
The celebrated poet first read this poem at the 2005 White House tree-lighting ceremony, and now it graces the pages of a picture book. The poem isn't an obvious choice for a children's book - it's philosophical, thought-provoking and full of big words like covenant, rancor and apprehension. Yet it is a powerful message—sermon-like—and a good one for children to hear.
The Lump of Coal by Lemony Snicket
A Christmas story by Lemony Snicket? For those who know Snicket's best-selling series of books, this sounds like an oxymoron. He's well-known for his funny but often bleak, Edward Gorey-like view of the world. Never fear, The Lump of Coal is a small holiday gem, a follow-up of sorts to last year's Hanukkah tale, The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming. Yes, it does have its share of grim moments—after all, it's about a lump of coal! But it's also full of humor, and it serves as a nice diversion from all the holiday schmaltz.
Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo
Rarely is a holiday book so lovely in every way as Kate DiCamillo's Great Joy. The story is heartwarming yet wonderfully subdued; the artwork glows. What's more, this short tale has a message that's bound to resonate with readers of all ages.
Blue Christmas by Mary Kay Andrews
The weather outside is decidedly not frightful in balmy Savannah, Georgia, where Weezie Foley is gearing up for what she hopes is her best Christmas ever. She expects her antique shop to grab first prize in the annual historical district window-decorating contest, even if the nasty new owners of the shop across the street seem hell-bent on sabotaging her victory. Even better, Weezie suspects this might be the year that her boyfriend, Daniel, finally pops the question.
Christmas Remembered by Tomie DePaola
Tomie dePaola's new book, Christmas Remembered, is billed as the renowned illustrator's first work for all ages. In 15 short chapters he describes his favorite holiday memories, starting in 1937 when he was three years old and his parents installed a fake, plug-in fireplace in their Connecticut apartment.
The Handmaid and the Carpenter by Elizabeth Berg
In Elizabeth Berg's lyrical recasting of the story of Mary and Joseph, The Handmaid and the Carpenter, we are reminded that the parents of Jesus were a startlingly young, humble couple. Deeply in love, they are struggling to understand the mystery of what visiting angels have told them: that Mary will bear the Son of God.
Any architecture or history buff would be pleased to find The Secret Lives of Buildings under the tree. Through the eyes of first-time author Edward Hollis, an architect who specializes in restoring historic buildings, readers will discover that iconic structures like the Parthenon, the Berlin Wall and even the Vegas Strip have led more storied lives than we realize. Hollis shares them with a fairy-tale charm, says reviewer Anne Bartlett, even going so far as to begin "most of his chapters with 'Once upon a time.' "
Still not convinced? We at BookPage enjoyed this book so much that it made it onto our list of 2009's Top 10 Nonfiction books.
You can find more great gift ideas in our holiday catalog.
Got an armchair traveler in the family? Then don't miss LIFE Wonders of the World. Not content to stop at 7 wonders, the LIFE editors have chosen 50 to include in this full-color, coffee table book. As reviewer Linda Castellitto says, "Each wondrous entity—such as the Empire State Building, the Serengeti and the International Space Station, to name a few—gets the full-on LIFE magazine treatment in large, color-drenched photos taken by a variety of talented photographers." (Read Linda's full review here.) The book also includes 8x10 posters of the 7 wonders of the world for readers to hang on their walls.
What are you buying for the book lovers in your life this year?
You can find more great gift ideas in our holiday catalog.
The music lover in your life will appreciate the gift of Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong, by Wall Street Journal reporter and literary blogger Terry Teachout. BookPage reviewer Ron Wynn says this "superb" biography contains tidbits of information about the famous jazz musician that will surprise even the most ardent fans (did you know Armstrong had a taste for pot, or feuded with President Eisenhower?).
And finally, the last of our "Best of 2009" lists: nonfiction. This year's picks include a little of everything, with an emphasis on memoir—it was a good year for getting personal.
[gallery link="file" columns="4" orderby="rand"]
Changing My Mind by Zadie Smith
Lit by Mary Karr
Louisa May Alcott by Harriet Reisen
Stitches by David Small
Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder
Googled by Ken Auletta
Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon
The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes
Home Game by Michael Lewis
The Secret Lives of Buildings by Edward Hollis
As always, share your picks in the comments. Is there something we missed?
Saving money, saving time and saving the planet by eating sustainably and seasonally has been the mantra of many cookbooks this year. But, in looking back and thinking about the ones that I know I'll go back to again and again (the true sign of a worthwhile cookbook), I was drawn to the more classic—books that focus on fabulous food, without preaching and beseeching.
—Sybil Pratt, BookPage cooking columnist
As an addendum to Tuesday’s “looking forward to March” post, here’s another book that I know many of you will be eager to read. Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun, will release another memoir detailing her experience in Italy: Every Day in Tuscany: Seasons of an Italian Life. The book goes on sale on March 9.
In college, I wrote a series of travel essays for a creative writing project. Mayes’ 2006 collection A Year in the World was a beloved companion as I formed my own stories.
A paragraph from the memoir's introduction stuck with me: “I asked an impulsive question, What if we did not go home, what if we kept traveling? Should you not listen well to the questions you ask out of nowhere? Only in looking back do you find those crumbs you dropped that marked your way forward.”
In reading the introduction from Every Day in Tuscany, it appears that Mayes is back in top form; vibrant imagery (delicious food! gorgeous landscapes!) and introspection abound. (An excerpt: “The journey itself is home. . . Transition feels sweet. I’m balanced between worlds and can roam forward and backward along the strada bianca, that white road of the innermost journey.”)
I don’t think Mayes is for everybody; her writing often feel like a series of vignettes, rather than a straight narrative, and I sometimes find myself reading sections of her books at random, rather than devouring the memoir from start to finish. (Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing.) In any case, armchair travel in Tuscany is sounding pretty good right now as the temperature drops in Nashville.
Do you have a favorite travel writer? You may find a new one in our December feature, “A globetrotter’s delight: Experience the world’s treasures, real and imagined.” Mayes fans should check out Slow: Life in a Tuscan Town by Douglas Gayeton.
Related in BookPage: Read an interview with Mayes about A Year in the World. I think many travelers will understand her “perennial tug-of-war” between setting off on wild adventures and being pulled by the comfort of home.
Americana buffs everywhere will have A New Literary History of America on their holiday wish lists. A compilation of more than 200 essays by writers like Jonathan Lethem and Sarah Vowell on pivotal pop cultural, literary and historical events from the Salem witch trials to Britney Spears, this book is a vibrant reminder of our rich history—and probably belongs under the tree of your favorite culture maven. Want to read more? Check out our full review or read a sample essay on the book's website.
Our 12 books of Christmas series continues with Phaidon's hefty survey of contemporary painting, Painting Today.
The modern painting fan in your life would be happy to find Painting Today under their tree. A comprehensive look at the paintings of the last 40 years—oils, watercolors, and more—this $75 behemoth is full of stunning images and knowledgeable commentary from Tony Godfrey, who works at Sotheby's Institute of Art and is a Fine Arts professor. The book is divided into sections by topic: neo-expressionism, pure abstraction, landscape art, the figure, post-feminism, and more, and the 500+ images are by artists of every background.
Do you have a favorite modern artist? Tell us in the comments before noon CST tomorrow, and you'll be entered to win a copy of Painting Today. Sorry, US residents only.
Read more reviews of art books on BookPage.com.
Other great gift ideas can be found in our holiday catalog.
The United Nations Climate Change Conference opened today in Copenhagen. For the next two weeks, leaders from 200 nations will try to deliver solutions for the earth’s environmental problems, with an emphasis on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
For those of you who’d like to plan a reading list with a green theme, check out the suggestions below. Which books are we missing? Tell us in the comments.
I recently read and reviewed the Young Readers edition of Our Choice: How We Can Solve the Climate Crisis, by Al Gore. Although the recommended age range for the book is 8-14, the content is certainly not watered down. Gore goes into detail about fuel sources, emissions, population control and other topics – all paired with tips on how individuals can make a difference. Also of note: the book is printed on 100% recycled paper.
Edward Humes’ Eco Barons presents us with profiles of people who want to change the world for the better, such as Ted Turner, the multi-billionaire founder of CNN, who bought enough land in Montana and the Great Plains to rival Yellowstone National Park.
New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas L. Friedman argues for significant environmental policy changes in Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution - and How It Can Renew America. He writes, “It is much more important to change your leaders than your light bulbs.”