Making a List, and Checking it Twice
Gentry's Christine VanDeVelde offers tips for finding the perfect gift
At this time of year, there are a handful of gifts with which it seems one could never go wrong – diamonds, champagne, flowers, chocolate. But champagne, of course, would not be suitable for the twelve-year-old on your Christmas list. And chocolate is a no-no for all your women friends watching their weight. Diamonds don’t fit into everyone’s budget. And the traditional poinsettia… enough said. There is, however, one gift that is always appropriate and always welcome -- a book.
Whether you’re buying for a baby, a baseball card collector, a bibliophile or your Aunt Julia whose taste runs to potboilers and Wemyss ceramic pigs, there is the perfect gift book out there for every person on your holiday list. Here are some suggestions for the season.
There are many, many wonderful children’s books, and you may want to give the young people on your list the book that you couldn’t put down when you were their age, whether that was Margaret Wise Brown’s Mister Dog, Kate Douglas Wiggins’ Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, or Stan Lee’s Essential Spider-Man. But we also asked Valerie Lewis of San Jose’s Hicklebee’s Books to recommend some new reads. For children aged 4 to 8, she loves Toys Go Out: Being the Adventures of a Knowledgeable Stingray, A Toughy Little Buffalo, and Someone Called Plastic, by Emily Jenkins with illustrations by Paul O. Zelinsky. “At bedtime, before I open our book,” says Lewis, “my grandson gathers his playthings on the bed and arranges them to listen. I was delighted at how perfectly this illustrated early chapter book fits into our lives. These are the stories of three toys that belong to a little girl who sleeps on a high bed – six adventures of three remarkable friends.”
For ages 7 to 10, Lewis says not to miss Frankenstein Makes A Sandwich and Other Stories You’re Sure to Like, because They’re All about Monsters and Some of Them are Also about Food,by Adam Rex, a laugh-out-loud collection of illustrated poems about the daily dealings of Count Dracula, the Creature From The Black Lagoon, and the Lunchsack of Notre Dame. And for all ages, there is Flotsam by David Wiesner, a wordless book with vivid watercolor renderings of an underwater world that is full of visual surprises and picture tale twists. “Your imagination will soar,” says Lewis.
Moving on to the adults on your list, The Gourmet Cookbook, 1,000-plus recipes from the pages of Gourmet Magazine, is a splendid gift for novice cooks, as well as professionals, says local chef Pamela Keith. “I rarely use cookbooks,” says the Ritz Escoffier-trained Keith, “but this is one I reference regularly. There is something inside for everyone.” The individual molten chocolate cakes with coffee crème anglaise have become a holiday tradition at our house. And for those who like to read about food, rather than whip it up, there is My Life in France by Julia Child and her grandnephew Alex Prud’homme. “Not only am I a Francophile, but I am forever a Juliaphile,” says Keith. “To read of her cooking adventures in France and of how she eventually became ‘our’ Julia through television and her cookbooks, is to love her all over again.”
Kevin Forsaith, Wine Director of Draeger’s, proffers two musts for oenophiles – The Wine Bible by connoisseur Karen MacNeil, as well as her latest book Wine, Food and Friends, which is filled with recipes and her principles for perfect wine and food pairings. Another all-time favorite of Forsaith’s is the classic Windows on the World Complete Wine Course, the best selling wine book in the country and the gold standard for comprehensive information presented in a user-friendly format. And if you can’t resist sending along a bottle of champagne to accompany your gift, Forsaith recommends Bollinger NV Special Cuvee, a blend of 60% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay, and 15% Pinot Meunier. “A satisfying, rich and flavorful brut in a nicely balanced package,” says Forsaith. “Smooth in texture, vibrant in balance and long on the finish.”
Gifting fiction for the holidays is difficult -- it’s a little like buying someone perfume or lingerie. Fiction is so much a matter of personal taste that finding a read that feels and fits right is an almost impossible task. So it’s probably best to stay with classics that reflect the holiday spirit – perhaps a handsome edition of Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales, Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory or, of course, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Because the holiday season is really about the “gift book” -- the coffee table tomes that feature lavish photography and illustration for every interest whether that be tattoos, singing cowboys, orchids or city skylines. With a gift book, you can find the perfect fit for every friend on your list.
My friend Ellen Michelson, a prominent collector of children’s literature, understands the enduring appeal of books as gifts. A book lover who doesn’t claim to read every book from cover to cover, she regards books as objects that enrich the home environment. “I love having stacks of reference books on tables throughout the house so that I can just pick one up for a few minutes and enter into the subject of the book by viewing the beautiful images,” she says. “The written text adds another dimension to the experience of the book, but sometimes the picture viewing is all that I am in the mood for at the moment.”
During the holidays, Ellen spends time selecting “coffee table” books for her family that reflect their interests and in the case of her two daughters these books now bear witness to their intellectual growth and passions, as well as form the basis of their own future libraries. “I am hoping the titles I have chosen over the years will be packed up and brought to their first homes,” says Ellen. Her favorite resources for high quality coffee table books are Taschen Books (taschen.com) and Phaidon Books (phaidon.com), as well as San Francisco’s William Stout Architectural Books on Montgomery Street (stoutbooks.com), which she says is heaven for lovely tomes on architecture, decorative arts, design, interiors, landscape and urban planning.
A few of the standout gift books that have come our way this year and will be published in time for the holidays include 40 years of Roger Henrard’s aerial photos of Paris in Above Paris; two new volumes of Superman comic strips Superman: The Dailies 1939-1942 and Superman Sunday Classics 1939-1943; a detailed official history for military buffs U.S. Air Force: A Complete History; and the ultimate baby boomer book Spy: The Funny Years, memorializing the satirical magazine.
Here’s hoping Santa fills your stocking with all things wonderful – whether baubles, jeroboams, or books. Happy Holidays!