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.”
"Wrap it up and give it to the guy who knows what funny is." That's what reviewer Martin Brady had to say about Our Front Pages: 21 Years of Greatness, Virtue, and Moral Rectitude from America’s Finest News Source, the latest collection from the satirical paper The Onion. Their writers are so good at skating the fine line between reality and satire that it's easy to see why at least one paper thought their "news" stories were the real thing. An earlier Onion collection was a great hit with my funny-guy brother, so this year might find another one under the tree—as long as he's not reading this!
Most scientists agree that there have been five mass extinctions in Earth's history. Kolbert, a respected environmental journalist, believes we're on the verge of number six, the first since the dinosaurs were wiped out more than 50 million years ago. What does this mean for the planet? We'll find out when The Sixth Extinction appears sometime next year.
From our archives: a review of the audio version of Kolbert's previous book, Field Notes from a Catastrophe.
I read a lot of blurbs* -- the frequently overblown, sometimes clichéd, always enthusiastic statements, typically by one author about another author’s book. Because I see so many blurbs, they rarely impress me. So imagine my surprise when I opened a January galley from Simon & Schuster and found a simple two-page printout titled “Advance Praise for Elena Gorokhova’s A Mountain of Crumbs.” Contained therein is perhaps the most impressive collection of blurbs for a single book that I’ve ever encountered.
The first blurb is from Billy Collins, acclaimed poet and former U.S. poet laureate, who describes Gorokova’s account of growing up in the Soviet Union as “the Russian equivalent of Angela’s Ashes.” Next is Frank McCourt himself, the author of Angela’s Ashes, who died in July. Before his death, McCourt composed a blurb in which he ruminates about Gorokhova’s “rich experience” and wonders why the book is “so damn readable.” The memoir also garners praise from Nobel Prize winner J.M. Coetzee (“an enthralling read”); Sergei Krushchev, son of former Soviet prime minister Nikita Krushchev (“an endlessly Russian quest for self-redemption”); novelist Ursula Hegi (“gorgeous and evocative”) and Carlos Eire (“every page bears witness to the deepest longing of the human heart”). Eire knows a thing or two about growing up under a Communist regime, having won the National Book Award for Waiting for Snow in Havana, a dazzling account of his youth in Cuba.
So what did I do after reading all those blurbs? I started reading A Mountain of Crumbs myself, and decided in short order that BookPage readers would want to know more about Gorokhova and her “rich,” “readable,” “gorgeous and evocative” memoir. Stay tuned for an interview with the author in the January issue of BookPage. And never underestimate the power of a blurb.
* Did you know? The word “blurb” was coined by American author Gelet Burgess, who in 1907 commissioned a special jacket for his novel Are You A Bromide? and christened the young woman pictured on the cover as “Miss Belinda Blurb.” Miss Blurb had many wonderful things to say about the novel (“This book has 42 carat THRILLS in it”) and her last name was forever after associated with effusive praise for a book.
It seems like every time I walk into a bookstore or library, there is a new flavor-of-the-month political book or memoir on display (like David Plouffe’s The Audacity to Win or Sarah From Alaska, both out today). Although I enjoyed Dreams From My Father (and this behind-the-book blog post about how it got published), I’ll admit that books by or about politicians are usually not my thing.
Since today is Election Day, however, I thought I’d post about a couple political books from our archives that have caught my interest. Please add your own suggestions in the comments. (Anyone pre-ordered Going Rogue. . . or Going Rouge?)
Clinton and Me by Mark Katz
“Humor in political discourse is a more potent weapon than spite. Mark Katz, who held the unusual position of presidential joke writer in the Clinton administration, proves this point decisively and with great fun in Clinton and Me: A Real Life Political Comedy. Katz begins his story in early 1995, when he tried to convince an unamused President Clinton to use an egg timer as the centerpiece of his speech before a group of Washington insiders known as the Alfalfa Club. The egg timer would serve as a comic device, allowing the president to make fun of himself for delivering an overly long State of the Union address. Clinton rejected the idea and went on to give a speech filled with spiteful, personal invectives; the evening was judged a disaster for the president.”
The Conviction of Richard Nixon by James Reston Jr.
“Three years after his resignation, Nixon negotiated a large fee to do a series of interviews with British TV personality David Frost. In preparing for the encounter, Frost hired a team of researchers to supply him questions and background facts. One of that team was James Reston Jr. He chronicles the event in The Conviction of Richard Nixon.”
The publication earlier this month of The Red Book, Carl Jung's famous, near-mythic journal that has, until now, been seen by only a few dozen people, is a publishing coup, an incredibly valuable revelation for Jung's followers and a hugely important addition to the history of modern psychology and psychoanalysis. The book itself is remarkable, big (12" x 15 ¾"), heavy (8.8 lbs!) and printed on thick, ivory coated stock. It's an exact facsimile of the original that Jung worked on for 16 years, between 1914 and 1930. (The book is also expensive, with a suggested retail price of $195.)
A uniquely created, modern illuminated manuscript, each of the 205 pages is covered in exquisite calligraphy, with ornaments and drawings in the margins and borders and elaborately adorned initials. Full-page, tempura paintings of dreamscapes, mystical figures and creatures are interspersed throughout the text, featuring amazing detail and stylized graphic designs and mandalas in lush colors. The complete text was scanned one-tenth of a millimeter at a time with a 10,200-pixel scanner by technicians from DigitalFusion.
The journal describes his intense interior journey to refind his soul by breaking down the barriers between the conscious and unconscious that started in 1913 when Jung was visited by disturbing visions and inner voices. What began as a life-crisis (Jung himself said that he worried that he might be "doing a schizophrenia"), became a way for Jung to know and understand his spirit and to renew it. He went on to induce these hallucinations or "active imaginations," as he called them, for years (just think what a little LSD might have done). The Red Book was never published, though there's reason to think that Jung wanted it to be. It was kept in a closet in his Zurich home and ultimately, years after his death in 1961, secreted in an underground bank vault.
It took years of persuading to get the Jung family to agree to share The Red Book with the world. Now, edited and introduced by Sonu Shamdasani and translated from the German by Mark Kyburz, John Peck and Sonu Shamdasani, it can seen and studied by all. It has been called "possibly the most influential hitherto unpublished work in the history of psychology" and will surely shed new light on Jung's life and work for his followers and his critics.
—Sukey Howard, Contributing Editor