Algonquin’s Guide to Gift Giving, Winter 2011

I always wait until the last minute to buy Christmas and Chanukah presents for my family. It’s not because shopping slips my mind, or because I forget about the holidays or my family, but mostly because I never know what to get my family. I generally end up buying them things I would actually like for myself, so they’ll share with me. An Arcade Fire CD for my father, or a chocolate cookbook for my mother, items they’ll enjoy but ultimately pass on to me. We call these gifts “red firetruck presents,” a phrase that evolved from a long-ago Christmas during which my uncle gave his father a toy red firetruck for Christmas, and then claimed it for his own Christmas morning.

If you’re like me, and you still don’t have a clue what you’re giving your family for the holidays this winter, we’ve prepared a gift guide for this winter season. Our choices are tailored to the specific interests of your loved ones, and I’m sure they’ll pass these great books on to you when they’ve finished reading!

For the Sports Enthusiast:

Cardboard Gods by Josh Wilker

Josh Wilker uses his childhood collection of baseball cards to begin each chapter of his nostalgic and heartbreakingly comic memoir. He recounts his experiences growing up in the 1970s–a time marked by Vietnam, Watergate, counterculture, sexual liberation, and stadium rock. Cardboard Gods announces the arrival of a talented new voice in the stadium of big-league memoirs.


For the Music Lover:

Little Blues Book by Brian Robertson

Little Blues Book is a funky celebration of America’s troubadours in the court of hard knocks. With everything from instructions on how to write your own blues song to a chronicle of infamous blues deaths, Little Blues Book has a rhyme, a face, and a word of advice for just about everything life has to offer.




Rock On: An Office Power Ballad by Dan Kennedy

Dan Kennedy is expecting a glamorous career in the show industry, complete with catered meals aboard a private jet, when he’s hired by a major record label in 2002. Instead, he finds himself eyeball-deep in mass layoffs, artist contract cuts, and all-time-low sales while in a workplace that embodies both This Is Spinal Tap and The Office. Kennedy’s absurdly hilarious and oddly heartbreaking account of his time in the trenches of the music industry is sure to entertain your favorite music fan.


For the Cocktail Lover/Literature Lover:

Hemingway & Bailey’s Bartending Guide to Great American Writers by Mark Bailey

“What’s the use of winning the Nobel Prize if it doesn’t even get you into speakeasies?” Sinclair Lewis’ quote begins his section of this entertaining homage to American writing. Bailey’s profiles of forty-three great American writers include a favorite cocktail, true stories of their saucy escapades, and intoxicating excerpts from their literary works. We recommend purchasing two copies–one for the bedside table and one for the bar.


For the Child at Heart/Literature Lover:

What the Dormouse Said: Lessons for Grown-Ups from Children’s Books by Amy Gash

What the Dormouse Said is a compilation of quotes drawn from both classic and lesser-known kid’s books. The book is organized into helpful sections like “Goodness” and “Eating Habits” so you can have a quote handy for every occasion. The collection ranges from the touching  (“An egg, because it contains life, is the most perfect thing there is. It is beautiful and mysterious”) to the humorous (“This sharing business is for the birds”) and will entertain a reader at any age.

For theFoodie:

52 Loaves by William Alexander

After the success of The $64 Tomato, Alexander set out on a quest to produce a perfect loaf of bread. Alexander’s journey takes him through the back alleys of Morocco, a monastery in Normandy, the famed École Ritz Escoffier in Paris, the New York State Fair, and his own backyard. An original take on the six-thousand-year-old staple of life, 52 Loaves explores the nature of obsession, the futility of trying to re-create something perfect, and the mysterious instinct that makes every person on the planet, regardless of culture or society, respond to the aroma of baking bread.

Seasoned in the South: Recipes from Crook’s Corner and from Home by Bill Smith

A favorite restaurant of many in Chapel Hill, Crook’s Corner has received national acclaim from The New York Times, Bon Appétit, Travel & Leisure, and The Washington Post since it first opened its doors in 1982. Bill Smith, the chef at Crook’s Corner for over a decade, serves up a variety of recipes from his own collection. Readers can now try to recreate the classic, up-scale Southern dishes they enjoy at Crook’s Corner from their own kitchens.


Maman’s Homesick Pie: A Persian Heart in an American Kitchen by Donia Bijan

Award-winning chef Donia Bijan begins her memoir with her childhood in the midst of the Iranian Revolution of the 1970s, as her family is forced to flee their home in Tehran. She continues her story with memories of her teenage years in America, her studies at the Cordon Bleu in Paris, and her life as a successful chef in San Francisco. Sprinkled throughout her book, Bijan shares recipes that blend her life experiences: Ratatouille with Black Olives and Fried Bread, Purple Plum Skillet Tart, Roast Duck Legs with Dates and Warm Lentil Salad, and twenty-seven other delicious dishes.

Man With a Pan: Culinary Adventures of Fathers Who Cook for Their Families by John Donohue

My dad is an excellent chef, and while I didn’t grow up like Mario Batali’s kids did, feasting on monkfish liver and foie gras, I went to bed with a full stomach and a happy heart every night. My dad would likely find community within this collection of twenty-one essays by esteemed writers and chefs including Batali, Peter Kaminsky, Mark Bittman, Stephen King, and Jim Harrison. This entertaining collection features more than sixty recipes, some mouth-watering, others titled “A Pretty Good Cake” or “Whole Roast Cow.”

For the Naturalist:

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

With beautiful detail, Bailey recounts her experiences with a Neohelix albolabris— a common woodland snail. Sick and bedridden, Bailey observes a wild snail living on her nightstand and begins to explore the meaning of her own confined place in the world. The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating examines not only human existence, but any kind of life, with grace and wit.



Wicked Bugs: The Louse that Conquered Napoleon’s Army & Other Diabolical Insects by Amy Stewart

Following her award winning Wicked Plants, Stewart profiles over one hundred of our worst insect enemies. From the world’s most painful hornet to millipedes that stop traffic, from “bookworms” that devour libraries to Japanese beetles that munch on roses, Wicked Bugs will have even your toughest cousin waking up from nightmares of six- and eight-legged creatures.


The Music of Wild Birds: An Illustrated, Annotated, and Opinionated Guide to Fifty Birds and Their Songs by Judy Pelikan

My mom’s best friend is an avid birder with a whole windowed room in her house dedicated to bird-watching. I can only differentiate between birds by taste: chicken, turkey, duck, etc. The Music of Wild Birds remarkably appeals to both the novice and experienced birder alike. Pelikan takes her readers inside the world of bird music. Learn how to identify a bid by its song–and then how to sing back to it by following musical scores.


For the Fashionista:

Love, Loss, and What I Wore by Ilene Beckerman

In her New York Times bestselling memoir, Ilene Beckerman uses her changing wardrobe to tell the story of her life in Manhattan during the 1940′s and ’50′s. She navigates marriage, divorce, and motherhood with good humor and fabulous clothes. This pithy book is packed with brightly colored illustrations and fashion-inspired anecdotes–some of them comical, and some of them poignant. Love, Loss, and What I Wore is a celebration of love, life, and womanhood.

For the Gardener:

Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities by Amy Stewart

When I was in middle school, I watered a neighbor’s plants over winter break while they vacationed.  They paid me with a gift certificate to a local music store, which I used to purchase The Backstreet Boys’ “Millennium” album.  Had they given me this book instead, I might have developed a greater awe and appreciation for botany. Stewart, who tends a poison garden of her own, takes on a tree that sheds poison daggers; a glistening red seed that stops the heart; a shrub that causes paralysis; a vine that strangles; and a leaf that triggered a war in a book that is sure to inform and entertain.

French Dirt: The Story of a Garden in the South of France by Richard Goodman

Few would have the courage to pack up and move from New York to a small village (small = population of 211) in France for a year, but Goodman did.  He begins to work as hired hand in his neighbors’ fields in an effort to make friends, and this sparks within him a yearning for his own plot of land. French Dirt details the love story between a man and his garden, as well as the growing friendship between an American outsider and a close-knit community of French farmers.

A Rose by Any Name: The Little-Known Lore and Deep-Rooted History of Rose Names by Douglas Brenner & Stephen Scanniello

A poetry professor once instructed me never to write about flowers. He clearly never read A Rose by Any Name. Encompassing art, literature, science, technology, history, and everything in between, the stories behind rose varieties include enough curiosities, romance, tragedy, wit, mystery, scandal, and earthy delights to satisfy even the most nit-picky of critics.


For the Armchair Traveler:

Very Charleston: A Celebration of History, Culture, and Lowcountry Charm by Diana Hollingsworth Gessler

Gessler’s guide and illustrations are every bit as charming as the city of Charleston itself.  From winding cobblestone streets and lush gardens to schooners and sailboats, no page in this book disappoints.  Each of Gessler’s wonderful watercolors is accompanied by fascinating facts about Charleston.




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One Comment On This Post:

December 17, 2011
11:08 pm
Anonymous says...

Very cleverly crafted gift guide!

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