Towards the end of the year, publishers slow down on publishing novels and start producing holiday gift books. Usually non-fiction, gift books are perfect for the person whose literary tastes you aren’t sure of, but whose interests (travel, cooking, humor, sports, etc.) are sure to be represented in the most recently published books. This month, I am reviewing a Christmas memoir; humor, both televised and in comic strip form; and beginner cookbooks both glossy and practical. Happy holidays!
Looking for a warm fuzzy Christmas collection? Then You’d Better Not Cry is not the book for you!
Augusten Burroughs is back with tales of his dysfunctional childhood holidays and his even more dysfunctional adult Christmases. Often hilarious, frequently obnoxious, and at times heartbreaking, you wonder after reading these vignettes of the author’s Christmases past how he managed to ever want to celebrate it again. In childhood, Augusten confused Santa Claus and Jesus Christ due to his complete lack of religious education. He also saw Christmas as the time when his parents’ settled their annual account with him; they were free to continue drinking, fighting and yelling once he received his huge stack of presents. With such inauspicious occasions behind him, is it any wonder that his later Christmas celebrations included waking up in bed with a department store Santa or waking up huddled with the homeless outside of a theater in Manhattan? Maybe this sounds too depressing to be a good read, but it isn’t–each of these stories has a core of hope wrapped in faith for the future that makes the collection inspirational rather than sordid. Burroughs’s development from childhood to adulthood mirrors the journey of Scrooge from Christmases past, venial and mercenary, to Christmases present and future, infused with love, generosity and gratitude. If you enjoy David Sedaris, if you like memoirs warts and all, this one’s for you.
Cookbooks are another holiday favorite for publishers. Beautiful and glossy, they are usually too expensive for cooks to justify buying them for themselves, yet pricy enough for gift-givers to feel like they are spending enough on a gift. Beginner cookbooks, however, are usually less food porn and more practical information. Two new beginner cookbooks are Get Cooking by Mollie Katzen (of Moosewood Cookbook fame) and Jamie’s Food Revolution by Jamie Oliver (of Food Network Fame.) Mollie Katzen’s book provides 150 simple recipes for the novice cook, with suggestions on how to stock a pantry, what equipment is essential and which skills are necessary for basic cooking. In paperback, illustrated with color photographs, it is a practical primer of simple adventurous recipes, perfect for kitchen use. Jamie’s Food Revolution is a glossy hardcover illustrated with delectable photographs. Jamie Oliver’s mission in this book is to get people cooking from scratch rather than ordering takeout or microwaving a prepared dinner. Interspersed among the recipes are portraits and testimonials from grateful former non-cooks who rave about how much better food tastes now that they are cooking for themselves. Oliver’s cooking evangelism is so fervent I doubt anyone would be able to resist his enthusiasm.
Fans of the “Simpsons” and “Calvin & Hobbes”, take note: there are two new books out that cater to your obsessions!
The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History by John Ortved tells the story of the Simpsons through statements from many people involved with the show from its beginnings. Writers, producers, authors of other books about the Simpsons, guest stars (Harvey Feirstein, Steven Tyler, Tom Wolfe) all weigh in on the cultural phenomenon that the show has become in its more than 20 years of existence. And Looking for Calvin & Hobbes by Nevin Martell exposes the back story of Bill Watterson, the most reclusive cartoonist in American history. Written without the cooperation of Watterson, Martell nevertheless does an excellent job of tracing the origins of the comic strip and relating why the cartoonist retired at the top of his popularity. Of interest to fans and non-fans alike.
Susan Taylor has been in the book business since 1982.