These are books in my own collection that I continually buy and give to other people, because a recommendation just won’t be enough. Sometimes, if the moment calls for it, I hand over my own copy, then replace it later.
|1. Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine |
I first heard Last Chance to See as a BBC documentary radio series, and this is more than just the companion book to it — it is both stand-alone, and is outstanding in its field of wildlife watching. A British fiction writer (Adams) and a zoologist circle the globe for a glimpse at terribly endangered species in their natural habitats. Anyone who loves animals, in person or on National Geographic specials would appreciate this book. Adams, a writer of science fiction comedy novels you may or may not have heard of (it doesn’t matter if you haven’t, but they are some of my personal favorites) has an incisive wit, and offbeat take in his observations of kakapos, Komodo dragons and pink pigeons that beats those straight-up nature tales. An innocent abroad, he’s the Everyman on the trip with our layman’s fascination for how something smells, or sounds, in the company of long-suffering and patient experts and conservators.
I can’t love this book enough, have read it more times than I can remember, and have bought four different editions over the years. I still cut out newspaper articles that mention the species in the book, and stuff them inside the cover of my favorite edition. Last Chance to See is wacky travelogue and wake-up call in equal parts, hilariously funny and utterly poignant by turns, often on the same page. Its environmental message couldn’t be more current (though it first came out in 1990). Indeed, some of the species profiled have gone extinct since the book was published. As has the irreplaceable Adams.
|2. Sock by Penn Jilette |
Yes, THAT Penn Jillette, of Penn and Teller, the wiseass magic duo (he’s the larger, louder half). The curiosity factor made me take a chance on this murder mystery (a genre I don’t usually read) told from the point of view of the sock monkey childhood toy of the lead male character (a police diver) who may or may not be connected to a woman’s murder. Just try to keep up, because the monkey isn’t your usual staid storyteller. This whammer-jammer, run-off-at-the-mouth, whirligig monkey “voice” is so unique among all the narrators I’ve read in a long, book-loving life, you have to read it to believe it. And you’re likely to know someone with an appreciation for what’s a little bit (or a lot) different to pass it on to, as I’ve done now several times. It’s simply easier to hand it over than try to describe it. Penn was just ahead of the current sock monkey fad (in clothing, toys, and dÃ©cor) by a few years, and this novel should be reaping that whirlwind, while spinning in its own vortex. I am in awe of the writing style, and all I have to do is flip to the first page when I’m slogging through an uninspired writing session to see what can be accomplished on the page.
|3. and 4. Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne|
I didn’t discover Pooh in the written form until I was in my twenties – previous to that I’d only seen the Disney cartoons. One of the things I liked most about the cartoons was when bits of the text appeared on the screen and the animated Pooh would bump, bump, bump down a stepped list of words, or interact with the actual writing in some other way. I thought of them only as little kid books too juvenile for a grownup, till I picked them up as an adult and found them not cutesy, but fabulously charming and witty. I bookmarked all the turns of phrase that made me laugh out loud as I read my omnibus edition of the two books, and found I’d put little strips of paper in almost every other page.
I give these books when I have to buy a baby gift, because the parent will have to read them to the child first, and I feel like I’m helping with that bond. And then the books become classic keepsakes, too.
|5. Stark by Ben Elton|
Unlike Last Chance to See, Stark is a science fiction comedy. Or, it used to be. Science fiction, that is. The environmental tipping point it postulates is pretty much about to fall into our laps, and quite recognizable to anyone who’s watched Al Gore’s PowerPoint presentation. Only his heroes are a ragtag bunch of intrepid nobodies who are out to make the big megacorps take responsibility for the damage they’ve caused before their CEOs escape accountability in an unexpected way. Ben Elton is a premiere, superstar stand-up comic in the UK, but he’s almost unknown in North America. Which is why I usually have to give this book as a gift, because most people won’t be able to find it themselves. When I can write a scene of my own that has a Ben Elton flavor, I consider it a very good writing day indeed.
|6. The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker |
An entirely different kind of book. It’s a practical wake-up call by an expert on security, threats (at all levels) and safety, and it predates the War on Terror. Every woman should read it, and give a copy to another woman, because it’s meant for us. I consider myself savvy, safe and assertive and I still found advice in this book I could use. Without fear-mongering, de Becker shows women in particular the value our instincts have, and why we should trust them to avoid threats and how to deal with those situations that just feel wrong, from crossing the dark parking lot to simply setting boundaries for people who unsettle us. I’ve even found myself remembering and using on his lessons when simply cutting off a bad date. He gets right at the conditioning women have to “be nice” and — “not hurt feelings” at the risk of putting ourselves at risk. His advice is not scare-tactics, but practical and empowering.
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