Skip to main content

 

 

Jay’s 2015 Holiday Shopping List: Books for Grownups

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Hi, everyone! Happy Holidays! You will notice that the format of this year’s holiday book list is a bit different. Instead of giving a summary of all of the books, a selection of books is highlighted by a synopsis. This makes for a hopefully neater and less lengthy version. Just a reminder that these are only suggestions and not anyone’s idea of a “best of” anything or “must-read” assignment thingy list. Also, the ages are only a suggestion. Any of these books would be appropriate for a myriad of ages. If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at jfung@manhattancountryschool.org.

The Mare by Mary Gaitskill - A young Dominican girl from the mean streets of Brooklyn forges a relationship with a white woman living in a bucolic upstate town and learns to love horses and respect herself. Eleven-year-old Velvet has a soft name, but there’s nothing even remotely plush about her life in a rough part of Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Abused (mostly, but not only, verbally) by her mother, a tough immigrant, Velvet has little to call her own, a few friends and almost no one she can trust. While Velvet craves her mother’s love and attention, Ginger, a 47-year-old sometime artist recovering from alcoholism and drug abuse, an abusive relationship and the death of her troubled sister, finds herself yearning for a child. Now living a comfortable life in upstate New York with Paul, her college-professor husband, Ginger has decided to “test the waters” of adoption by hosting a Fresh Air Fund kid for a couple of weeks, a commitment that stretches far longer and deeper. That’s how Velvet and Ginger meet, and it’s also how Velvet meets a mistrustful and mistreated horse at the stable next door to Ginger’s house, whom she will tame and train, and who will do the same for her. Alternating primarily between Velvet’s and Ginger’s perspectives, with occasional observations from other characters, National Book Award finalist Gaitskill (Veronica, 2005, etc.) takes a premise that could have been preachy, sentimental or simplistic—juxtaposing urban and rural, rich and poor, young and old, brown and white—and makes it candid and emotionally complex, spare, real and deeply affecting.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates - In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden? Between the World and Me is Coates’ attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, re-imagined history and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.

Notes on the Assemblage by Juan Felipe Herrera - Notes on the Assemblage provides a splendid introduction to the expansive work of Juan Felipe Herrera, the nation’s new poet laureate. The son of migrant farm workers, Herrera powerfully conveys the experience of migrants who have languished in detention camps and feel apprehensive as they approach the U.S. border. He also knows firsthand the frustration of being labeled "half Mexican," as if he were neither a true Mexican nor a real American. Herrera’s background as a performance artist shows in many poems, which come alive when read aloud. Herrera, who has published multiple poetry collections and young-adult novels, easily handles an array of topics and knows how to capture both the pulse of the news and timeless subjects such as people’s deep longings for justice.

How to Watch A Movie by David Thomson - From one of the most admired critics of our time, brilliant insights into the act of watching movies and an enlightening discussion about how to derive more from any film experience. Since first publishing his landmark Biographical Dictionary of Film in 1975 (recently released in its sixth edition), David Thomson has been one of our most provocative authorities on all things cinema. Now he offers his most inventive exploration of the medium yet: guiding us through each element of the viewing experience, considering the significance of everything from what we see and hear on-screen—actors, shots, cuts, dialogue, music—to the specifics of how, where and with whom we do the viewing.  With customary candor and wit, Thomson delivers keen analyses of a range of films from classics such as "Psycho" and "Citizen Kane" to contemporary fare such as "12 Years a Slave" and "All Is Lost," revealing how to more deeply appreciate both the artistry and (yes) manipulation of film, and how watching movies approaches something like watching life itself. Discerning, funny, and utterly unique, How to Watch a Movie is a welcome twist on a classic proverb: Give a movie fan a film, she’ll be entertained for an hour or two; teach a movie fan to watch, his experience will be enriched forever.

Brooklyn: A Novel by Colm Tóibín - Hauntingly beautiful and heartbreaking, Colm Tóibín’s sixth novel, Brooklyn, is set in Brooklyn and Ireland in the early 1950s, when one young woman crosses the ocean to make a new life for herself. Eilis Lacey has come of age in small-town Ireland in the hard years following World War II. When an Irish priest from Brooklyn offers to sponsor Eilis in America—to live and work in a Brooklyn neighborhood “just like Ireland”—she decides she must go, leaving her fragile mother and her charismatic sister behind. Eilis finds work in a department store on Fulton Street, and when she least expects it, finds love. Tony, who loves the Dodgers and his big Italian family, slowly wins her over with patient charm. But just as Eilis begins to fall in love with Tony, devastating news from Ireland threatens the promise of her future. By far Tóibín’s most instantly engaging and emotionally resonant novel, Brooklyn will make readers fall in love with his gorgeous writing and spellbinding characters.

Hartwood: Bright, Wild Flavors from the Edge of the Yucatán by Eric Werner & Mya Henry - The best things happen when people pursue their dreams. Consider the story of Eric Werner and Mya Henry, an intrepid young couple who gave up their restaurant jobs in New York City to start anew in the one-road town of Tulum, Mexico. Here they built Hartwood, one of the most exciting and inspiring restaurants in the world. Mya Henry took on the role of general manager, seeing to the overall operations and tending to the guests, while Eric Werner went to work magic in the kitchen. The food served at Hartwood is “addictive,” says Noma chef René Redzepi, adding, “It’s the reason people line up for hours every single day to eat there, even though their vacation time is precious.” Werner’s passion for dazzling flavors and natural ingredients is expertly translated into recipes anyone can cook at home. Every dish has a balance of sweet and spicy, fresh and dried, oil and acid, without relying heavily on wheat and dairy. The flavoring elements are simple—honeys, salts, fresh and dried herbs, fresh and dried chiles, onions, garlic—but by using the same ingredients in different forms, Werner layers flavors to bring forth maximum deliciousness. The recipes are beautifully photographed and interspersed with inspiring, gorgeously illustrated essays about this setting and story, making Hartwood an exhilarating experience from beginning to end.

The Country of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman - In the ruins of a future America, 15-year-old Ice Cream Star and her nomadic tribe live off of the detritus of a crumbled civilization. Theirs is a world of children; before reaching the age of 20, they all die of a mysterious disease they call Posies—a plague that has killed for generations. There is no medicine, no treatment; only the mysterious rumor of a cure. When her brother begins showing signs of the disease, Ice Cream Star sets off on a bold journey to find this cure. Led by a stranger, a captured prisoner named Pasha who becomes her devoted protector and friend, Ice Cream Star plunges into the unknown, risking her freedom and ultimately her life. Traveling hundreds of miles across treacherous, unfamiliar territory, she will experience love, heartbreak, cruelty, terror and betrayal, fighting with her whole heart and soul to protect the only world she has ever known. Guardian First Book Award finalist Sandra Newman delivers an extraordinary post-apocalyptic literary epic as imaginative as The Passage and as linguistically ambitious as Cloud Atlas. Like Hushpuppy in The Beasts of the Southern Wild grown to adolescence in a landscape as dangerously unpredictable as that of Ready Player One, The Country of Ice Cream Star is a breathtaking work from a writer of rare and unconventional talent.

Fiction

A Strangeness in My Mind by Orhan Pamuk
Fortune Smiles: Stories by Adam Johnson
100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith
Recipes for Love and Murder: A Tannie Maria Mystery by Sally Andrew
An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter by César Aira
Snow Hunters: A Novel by Paul Yoon
Deep Lane: Poems by Mark Doty
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
A Manual for Cleaning Women: Stories by Lucia Berlin
Room: A Novel by Emma Donoghue
The Turner House by Angela Flournoy
Voyage of the Sable Venus and Other Poems by Robin Coste Lewis
Fates and Furies: A Novel by Lauren Groff
The Architect’s Apprentice by Elif Shafak 
Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Non-Fiction

On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks
The Giveness of Things: Essays by Marilynne Robinson
Trace: Memory, History, Race and the American Landscape by Lauret Savoy
Act One: An Autobiography by Moss Hart
Andy Goldsworthy: Ephemeral Works: 2004-2014 by Andy Goldsworthy
Unabrow: Misadventures of a Late Bloomer by Una LaMarche
Dust & Grooves: Adventures in Record Collecting by Ellon Paz & RZA
The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle by Lillian Faderman
Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink by Elvis Costello
The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt
If the Oceans Were Ink: An Unlikely Friendship and a Journey to the Heart of the Quran by Carla Power
Thunder and Lightning: Weather Past, Present and Future by Lauren Redniss