Good Reads for 2013: A Holiday Gift Guide for Book Lovers

For the horseracing junkie, the history buff, the art aficionado or just about any other friend or relative on your holiday gift list, Saratoga Living and a host of local book lovers offer the following suggestions for books to give this season.

A_Thousand_Mornings Art_of_Fielding Big_screen_story_of_the_movies




For the Foodie

Burma: Rivers of Flavor (Artisan Publishers), a new cookbook by Naomi Duguid about the rich cuisine of an ancient country, garners raves from book buyer Stan Hynds of Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, Vermont. “I personally know booksellers across the country who have tested recipes from this book before its release,” Hynds says.

Saratoga Reads—a group that brings the Saratoga community together to read one voter-chosen book each year—poured over 150 nominations before paring their list down in the fall. Blood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef (Random House) by unconventional chef and New York City bistro owner Gabrielle Hamilton made the cut for her “no-holds-barred” memoir.

Masala Farm: Recipes and Tales from an Uncommon Life in the Country (Chronicle Books), the latest cookbook by Chef Suvir Saran—a respected authority on Indian cuisine and a former contestant on Bravo’s “Top Chef”—gives readers an intimate look at the bucolic farm in nearby Washington County where Saran spends his time cooking hearty, spice-laden feasts.

For the Horse Racing Fan

Saratoga Springs’ Lyrical Ballad Bookstore stocks mainly used and antiquarian books in its Phila Street labyrinth, but co-owner John DeMarco keeps newer books of Saratoga interest on hand. He suggests Kimberly Gatto’s Saratoga Race Course: The August Place to Be (The History Press) and The Spa: Saratoga’s Legendary Race Course (Turnberry Consulting) by Paul Roberts and Isabelle Taylor for racing fans who want to spend the off-season learning more about the storied history of the nation’s oldest Thoroughbred race track.

For a fascinating look at the seedier underside of horse racing, Steven Riess’ The Sport of Kings and the Kings of Crime: Horse Racing, Politics, and Organized Crime in New York, 1865–1913 (Syracuse University Press) explores the historical connection between organized crime, politics and horse racing in the Empire state.

And for a lighter view of the relationship between humans and horses, Elizabeth Letts’ The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman, the Horse that Inspired a Nation (Ballantine Books) tells the heart-warming, true story of a down-on-his-luck horse and the trainer who transformed him into a show jumping champion.

For the Culture Maven

The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies and What They Did to Us (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), an epic history of films and filmmaking by critic and historian David Thomson, is good reading, says Northshire bookseller Charles Bottomley, even as it “enlightens and infuriates.”

Maureen Sager, director of Saratoga Springs’ Spring Street Gallery, has two catalogue suggestions for the art lover’s holiday wish list: Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty (Metropolitan Museum of Art), the Met’s “relentlessly gorgeous” catalogue for the provocative fashion designer’s posthumous retrospective, and Nancy Grossman: Tough Life Diary (Prestel). Tough Life Diary—edited and produced by Ian Berry, curator of Skidmore College’s Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery—contextualizes the visual artist’s powerful Tang exhibition from earlier this year.

For the Literature Lover

Another Saratoga Reads finalist, The Art of Fielding (Back Bay Books) by Chad Harbach, interweaves the stories of a Wisconsin college president, his adult daughter, and several members of the college’s baseball team. “Full of love, baseball and literary allusions, this is a big-hearted, ambitious book,” says Saratoga Reads.

A recent nominee for a National Book Award, The Yellow Birds (Little, Brown and Company), a novel by U.S. Army veteran Kevin Powers who served in Iraq, is a “beautifully written story of war that will hold the interest of men and women” says Barbara Norelli, Social Sciences Librarian at Skidmore College’s Lucy Scribner Library.

Mark Helprin’s In Sunlight and in Shadow (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), a love story set in Manhattan in the aftermath of World War II, is “a deeply romantic, supremely intelligent novel,” recommends Northshire bookseller Karen Frank.

For the poetry lover, Connie Brooks—proprietor of Battenkill Books in Cambridge—picks the newest “must have” collection by Pulitzer Prizewinning poet Mary Oliver, A Thousand Mornings (Penguin Press). “Is there anyone who can resist Mary Oliver’s poetry?” asks Brooks.

Saratoga Springs’ own Pulitzer Prizewinning author Steven Millhauser, a professor at Skidmore College, won the 2012 Story Prize for We Others: New and Selected Stories (Knopf), a collection of imaginative pieces set in places as disparate as Thomas Edison’s lab, 19th century Vienna and contemporary Connecticut.

Live By Night (William Morrow) is the new crime epic by suspense master Dennis Lehane. “If William Kennedy were Raymond Chandler’s editor, the result might resemble Lehane’s latest,” says Northshire floor manager Erik Barnum, calling the dark Prohibition-era tale about a small time gangster’s rise a “literary masterstroke.”

For the Eco-Minded

Farmer Joel Salatin’s latest book, Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World (Center Street), explores challenges of the food system and ideas for reforming agriculture, says Deborah Miles Czech, promotions coordinator for the Saratoga Farmers’ Market, which features a local farm—Kilpatrick Family Farm—whose owner Michael Kilpatrick interned on Salatin’s unconventional Polyface Farm in Virginia.

For parents, Karen Totino from Saratoga Springs’ Green Conscience Home and Garden store recommends Raising Elijah: Protecting Our Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis (Da Capo Press) by Sandra Steingraber, who won the 2012 Green Prize for Sustainable Literature for her book exploring links between rising chronic childhood diseases and toxic chemical exposure.

For the History Buff

In Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), prominent historian Henry Wiencek presents “perhaps the most important study of Jefferson in years,” says Northshire bookseller Bill Lewis of this account of Jefferson’s attitudes on freedom, slavery and race.

Warren County (New York): Its People and Their History Over Time (Donning Company Publishers), by the Warren County Historical Society, gives a detailed view of Saratoga County’s neighbor to the north, from the Native Americans and first European settlers to the rise of agriculture and the suburban development of the post-World War II years.

In 1482, Leonardo da Vinci left Florence, hoping to work for the Duke of Milan as a military architect to no avail, but he ended up painting the Last Supper, a tale told in Ross King’s Leonardo and the Last Supper (Walker and Company). “This absolutely fascinating book shows the artistry, techniques and politics that created one of our most memorable works of art,” says Northshire bookseller Louise Jones.

The Burning of the Piping Rock (Matchless Books), a novel by Washington County author Joseph Cutshall-King, is a popular seller at Lyrical Ballad, says co-owner John DeMarco. The historical mystery—based in part on true events— tells a fictionalized account of the real-life and still unsolved 1954 arson of the mob-owned Piping Rock Casino in Saratoga Springs.

For Kids & Young Adults

In More (Houghton Mifflin), an inventive and spare picture book by author I. C. Springman and illustrator Brian Lies, a magpie collects too many bright, shiny objects and a friendly squirrel helps him. “This is currently my favorite picture book to recommend to preschoolers and kindergartners,” says Battenkill Books’ Connie Brooks.

Loudonville librarian Annie Davis suggests several books currently flying off the shelves in her elementary school. Let’s Go for a Drive (Hyperion) is the newest of Mo Willem’s extremely popular books about the much-loved Elephant and Piggie characters, while Pete the Cat Saves Christmas (HarperCollins) by banjo picking author Eric Litwinis has “groovy songs the kids love.” And Scaredy Squirrel Prepares for Christmas (Kids Can Press) by Melanie Watt tells the tale of a petrified squirrel who “goes to ridiculous lengths to stay safe that are so silly the kids crack up,” says Davis.

For young adults, the “scary, smart and thrilling” book The Diviners (Little, Brown), written by author Libba Bray and set in 1920s New York, is Brooks’ favorite young adult novel of the season. Davis praises The One and Only Ivan (HarperCollins)—by Katherine Applegate and Patricia Castelao and based on a true story of a captive gorilla—and R.J. Palacio’s life-affirming friendship fable Wonder (Knopf) as the top young adult books of 2012.

Story by KIRSTEN FERGUSON
Published in Saratoga Living magazine, Winter 2012/2013

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