Secrets, Scandals, Simplicity: Stockings Full of Books

Torrid love affairs, biting satire, revolutionary recipes — there's enough tasty material in this list to quench the literary appetites of your entire family. (You can print these titles, along with all our other year-end picks, using this master list.)

Fiction

A Real-Life Love Story

Loving Frank
Loving Frank by Nancy Horan, hardcover, 384 pages, List Price: $23.95

From letters and interviews, first-time author Nancy Horan crafts an intriguing love story based on Frank Lloyd Wright's real-life love affair. Just as the legendary architect was beginning to make his mark in Chicago with innovative "sprung from the earth" designs, he met Mameh Borthwick Cheney. Wright was hired to design a home in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park for Cheney and her husband, but sparks flew. A few years later, Cheney left her husband to live in Europe with Wright; it was a scandal that entranced much of the country. Horan tells the story from Mameh's point of view, from her first sight of Wright to its shocking conclusion.

A Haunted Ghost Writer

The Ghost
The Ghost by Robert Harris, hardcover 352 pages, List Price: $26.00

After Adam Lang, a Tony Blair-like figure, steps down as England's prime minister, a London writer is approached by Lang's staff, who want him to "ghost" the former P.M.'s memoirs. The original writer, a former staff member, has died. The new ghost quickly discovers Lang's original writer has drowned — and suspects it might not have been accidental. Harris convincingly describes life in the high-octane environment of a powerful public figure, with enough surprises along the way to keep you turning until the last page. Definitely, as one of Harris' characters might describe it, "a proper book."

Dark Stories from Los Angeles

LA Noir
LA Noir edited by Denise Hamilton, paperback, 348 pages, List Price: $15.95

A collection of short stories set in post-Chandler Los Angeles, by some of the city's finest writers. Millennial L.A. is just as noir as the 40s L.A. that birthed the genre, but far more diverse. As editor (and writer of the Eve Diamond mystery series) Hamilton notes in the intro: "Los Angeles has changed beyond recognition since Philip Marlowe stalked the mean streets. Today's suburbs were orange groves in Chandler's day, and many of the ethnic enclaves that make the city such a vibrant Pacific Rim metropolis hadn't yet taken root. But the noir essence of Los Angeles never really went away, it just morphed into something more colorful and polyglot. 21st Century L.A. is more noir than ever." And we're better for it.

Nonfiction

Uncovering a Racial History

One Drop
One Drop, My Father's Hidden Life by Bliss Broyard, hardcover, 528 pages, List Price: $24.99

When she was 24 and her father lay dying of prostate cancer, Bliss Broyard's mother took her and her older brother aside and gave them some news: "Your father is part black." Anatole Broyard, noted book critic for The New York Times, spent his adult life daintily walking around that fact — with some help from extraordinarily pale skin. Broyard chronicles how she retraced her father's history to discover why he made the decision to leave his family and live in racial ambiguity — something that had repercussions for them both.

Musings on Culinary Genius

The Tenth Muse
The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food by Judith Jones, hardcover, 304 pages, List Price: $24.95

Her clients often became friends, and she helped make them household names: Julia Child, James Beard, Edna Lewis, and several other cooks who became icons thanks to their genius and Jones' genius for turning their professional knowledge into recipes American households could use. Jones fuses personal history with culinary evolution and the result is completely delicious.

(Also contains 50 recipes, many of which hark back to the anecdotes in the book.)

Gift Books

All the MAD You Can Handle

The Completely MAD Don Martin, by the Editors of Mad Magazine, hardcover, 1200 pages, List Price: $150.00

The precursor to The Lampoon and The Onion, MAD was a collection of satirical cartoons and writings that flourished in the 60s and 70s. Artist Don Martin's contributions were among the best-remembered and most beloved by Baby Boomers. This hefty collection (both in weight and price) gathers all of Martin's work together in two volumes bound in an elegant slipcase. This likely would have made Martin's characters, with their signature droopy bodies and pancake-flat feet, chortle with amusement.

Barking up a Storm

Howl
Howl: A Collection of the Best Contemporary Dog Wit, by the editors of The Bark, hardcover, 352 pages, List Price: $25.00

Stories about and even by dogs (with a little help) from the editors of The Bark, a pretty sophisticated magazine about dogs. Their earlier effort was the best-selling Dog Is My Co-Pilot. Contributors include Margaret Cho, Kinky Friedman and Dave Barry, who all wax eloquent about the dogs that own them. (Let's be honest here — that is the way things work...) If you've ever turned your back on a roast to your regret (and your dog's satisfaction), if you've ever slept uncomfortably contorted so your dog can stretch out in comfort on what was supposed to be a corner of the bed, you'll recognize plenty of kindred spirits within these covers. So sit. Stay. Read.

Four Centuries of American History

Time America
Time America: An Illustrated History, by the editors of Time Magazine, hardcover, 266 pages, List Price: $29.95

A look at how we became who we are. Time's editors look at America before it got its name, through four centuries of history — not all of it pretty — with a lot of photographs, drawings, maps and other intriguing artifacts. There are maps of the pre-Colonial United states, advertisements for boarding houses during the Western Gold Rush and letters written by veterans of several wars. This book is good to keep around so when a young person asks, "What was going on when you and my great-great-grandma were my age?" you can show, as well as tell her — traumatic moments and all.

Photos from the Front Lines

Whiskey Foxtrot Tango
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, by Ashley Gilbertson, hardcover, 260 pages, List Price: $35.00

Freelance photographer Ashley Gilbertson, 26, began to chronicle life in Iraq around the time of the American invasion. He stayed to document how the initial triumph of Saddam Hussein's overthrow quickly morphed into sectarian violence and segregation. Gilbertson's startlingly candid photographs call to mind the best of his predecessors, war photographers such as Robert Capa, David Douglas Duncan, Larry Burroughs and James Natchwey. (WTF, by the way, is the military euphemism for What The F***, frequently used as an expression of incredulity when things are hitting the fan...)

Food & Entertaining

Bar Food, Hold the Bar

Bar Food
Great Bar Food at Home, by Kate Heyhoe, hardcover, 127 pages, List Price: $17.95

Skip the crowds and make your own stylish nibbles at home. Kate Heyhoe, editor of the Web's first culinary e-zine, gives recipes for noshes that go with mixed drinks, beer and wines, along with the little plates' history. (For instance: Carpaccio, the paper-thin slices of raw beef that are now a restaurant standard, got its start, like the Bellini, at Harry's Bar, in Venice. The dish was named for the deep velvety red in Vittore Carpaccio's Renaissance paintings...) Now you can toss the chips and corn nuts and upgrade!

Coast-to-Coast Cuisine

Saveur Cooks
Saveur Cooks Authentic American, by the editors of Saveur Magazine, hardcover, 320 pages, List Price: $24.95

Saveur is known by serious foodies as the National Geographic of food literature — always gorgeously photographed — and this book, by its editors, doesn't disappoint. If you didn't get it the first time in hardcover (originally published in 1998), here's your chance. From pasta with clams and basil, a gift from San Francisco's substantial Italian-American community, to the creamed corn of Pennsylvania Dutch country to the Benedictine sandwiches served with Mint Juleps at the Kentucky Derby, this collection will encourage you to eat your way from coast to coast.

Home Organization

Simplify Your Life

It's All Too Much
It's All Too Much, by Peter Walsh, hardcover 240 pages, List Price: $22.00

Maybe one of your good intentions for 2008 is to simplify your life by getting rid of some of that stuff in your house. (Maybe you bought this book last year when it was in hardcover but it disappeared under piles of...stuff?) If so, Peter Walsh, as much psychologist as professional organizer, is here to help. His approach to clutter-busting is sensible, humane and (important for the grumps among us) non-chirpy. He acknowledges that purging our stuff is time-consuming and sometimes emotionally painful, but encourages us to keep our eyes on the prize, so in the end, we're rewarded with clearer flat surfaces, a place for (mostly) everything and the peace that comes with a well-ordered environment. What better way to start the New Year?

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: