It is the holiday season once again! Instead of reviewing a few new titles (who has time to read in December?), I’ll write about recent books that would make wonderful gifts for someone on your list. Perhaps after your shopping is done you’ll be able to settle yourself down with your own good book—good luck!
Don Rittner has been a very busy man this year. This year not only saw the release of his Schenectady Then and Now in June; in October, his newest book of local photographs, Troy Then and Now, was released. Either of these books would make a great gift for the local history maven in your life. They feature old photographs from Schenectady and Troy paired with current photographs taken from the same perspective, so that you can compare the views and see what has changed in the intervening years. They provide a fascinating overview of each city for both long-term residents and newcomers alike.
Last year a big holiday hit was Bird Songs: 250 North American Birds in Song by Les Beletsky, featuring audio enhancement from the Cornell Lab of Orinthology. Each entry features a different bird, including a beautiful drawing, descriptions of its habits, habitation and call, plus the actual audio of its song. Bird lovers will salivate this year over the team’s next project, Bird Songs from Around the World. It has the same format, but it features 200 birds from all over the world. The well-traveled (or would-be well-traveled!) bird-watcher will spend hours reading and listening to this book, and it is a great way to introduce kids to the delights of bird watching.
To continue the sequel theme, last year’s Rejection Collection, edited by Matt Diffie, spawned this year’s The Rejection Collection, Volume 2: The Cream of the Crap. Once again, we are presented with a collection of cartoons rejected by the New Yorker, penned by some of the magazines most familiar contributors: Sam Gross, Roz Chast, David Sipress and Gahan Wilson, to name a few. Why didn’t these (mostly) very funny cartoons make it? Various reasons—too salacious, too scatological, too weird, too disturbing and the odd case of just not too funny. Perfect for New Yorker fans who flip through the cartoons first every week!
Last year’s candidate in the Letters-of-Famous-People-That-We’d-Love-to-Read category was Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford edited by Peter Sussman. This year brings us The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters, edited by Charlotte Mosley, the daughter-in-law of Diana Mosley, the third eldest Mitford sister. If you are a woman with a sister, someone with an interest in 20th century English history, someone who enjoys Nancy Mitford’s novels or maybe you just enjoy reading the correspondence of others, this is the book for you. Charlotte Mosley selected these letters from the 12,000 extant between the sisters; they span from 1925 to 2002 and mention as intimates many of the political and literary icons of the century. While they are primary source material for historians, they are also an amazing view of sororal relationships in a large family. Nicknames, family jokes and gossip abound, making this collection a joy to read. The connecting essays give the details of the sisters’ lives that the letters don’t necessarily provide, so that they may be read without undue confusion. This book isn’t for everyone, but if you have a literary woman on your gift list, this might be just the ticket.
A really cool little book is Transit Maps of the World by Mark Ovenden. Subtitled The World’s First Collection of Every Urban Train Map of Earth, it is a quirky collection of
public transportation maps from around the world. Some rail systems, like those of New York City, Paris and London, are older and have some historic maps included so the reader can compare both styles and scope. Some are newer, with sleek production values and modern graphics. The last chapter gives an overview of smaller/newer/future systems from around the world. Anyone who travels, takes public transportation or has an interest in design will find this volume intriguing; even non-map lovers will enjoy broadening their horizons.
Technology is coming to a book near you—the bird song books mentioned above are not the only ones with sophisticated sound effects. Obsessed with Baseball: Test Your Knowledge of America’s Pastime by The Baseball Guys and Obsessed with Hollywood: Test Your Knowledge of the Silver Screen by Andrew J. Rausch are quiz games in a book each with 2,500 questions. Trivia buffs obsessed with movies or baseball will be kept busy for hours, and the game keeps score if two people want to compete.
I hope this list helps you with your shopping. Thanks for reading, and may you and yours have a happy and safe holiday season.
Susan Taylor has been in the book business, in one aspect or another since 1982, and works at the Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza. Stop by the store if you are looking for a good book—she’s read a lot more than she can talk about here!