Still have a few gifts left to purchase? Head to the bookstore or online for a few of this season’s best that are sure to please those left on your list.
Precious pigs Toot and Puddle struggle to spend the holidays together in I’ll Be Home for Christmas (Little, Brown and Company, $15.95), by Holly Hobbie — yes, that Holly Hobbie, — while Mr. Pine tries to figure out a way to stand out from the pack in the new reissue of the children’s classic Mr. Pine’s Purple House (by Leonard Kessler, Purple House Press, $16). Beat boredom in every season with Get Crafty: 60 Cool Holiday Crafts for Year-Round Fun (by Nancy Jo King, Lunchbox Press, $7.95), which features easy-to-make ideas for nearly every holiday.
Art: A Field Guide (Knopf, $27.50), by Robert Cumming, former chairman of Christie’s International Art Studies, provides a primer on more than 770 painters, plus descriptions of their techniques and styles, in this essential, informative guide. Poets give a voice to their words in Poetry Speaks (Sourcebooks, $49.95), which features some of the greats, including an 1888 recording of Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
America Wide: In God We Trust (Ken Duncan Panographs, $45) magnificently captures the country in panoramic pictures. Inspiration abounds in Garage (by Kira Obolensky, The Taunton Press, $32), a book celebrating the oft-forgotten room. Wild L.A.(by James Lawrence, Sierra Club Books, $40) explores not the nightlife but the nature surrounding the City of Angels, while The Most Beautiful Villages of the Loire (by Hugh Palmer with James Bentley, Thames & Hudson, $40) features close to 300 fabulous photos of France’s château region.
TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG
By Peter Carey, Knopf, $25
Notorious Australian outlaw Ned Kelly tells his own tale in this Booker Prize-winning fictional masterpiece by the author of Oscar and Lucinda and Jack Maggs. To the authorities, Kelly was a dangerous criminal; to many Australians, he was a patriot, persecuted by the English hierarchy. His confession — “thirteen parcels of stained and dog-eared papers” — is written for an infant daughter that he’ll ultimately never see.
With his brothers and two friends, Kelly eluded a massive police manhunt for 20 months, living by his wits and masterminding ingenious bank robberies and stagecoach holdups. But he’s a crook with a heart; when given a chance to flee overseas, he remained to try to negotiate his mother’s freedom even at the cost of his own (she served out her term in the Melbourne prison where he was hanged in 1880). Still Australia’s most powerful outlaw legend, Kelly tells his tale in vibrant narrative that’s almost as expletive-heavy as it is punctuation-light. In what may well become a Great Aussie Novel, Carey breathes life into a historical figure who transcends national borders in this epic outback adventure.
Our Read: Ingenious, the "western" novel at its best
LETTERS TO A YOUNG CONTRARIAN
By Christopher Hitchens, Basic Books, $22
These are not good times for naysaying. The country has been through a rough period and must pull together. Still, a free society needs its malcontents, and nobody is more malcontent than popular Vanity Fair columnist Hitchens, who puts his poison pen to paper in Letters to a Young Contrarian.
Hitchens has argued for the prosecution of Henry Kissinger as a war criminal, and has even attacked Mother Teresa for practicing bad medicine. Agree or not, his credentials as an agent provocateur are in order, and in this tonic and witty little book, he offers advice and encouragement to other would-be contrarians who might rattle society’s windows a bit.
“The essence of the independent mind,” he writes, “lies not in what it thinks but in how it thinks.”
CHASING THE RED, WHITE AND BLUE
By David Cohen, Picador, USA, $24
Writers wishing to comprehend the American character find the road infinitely seductive. Cohen’s book is the latest entry in the genre and he has the good sense to follow in the tracks of the most celebrated and influential of all those writers who hit the American road — Alexis de Tocqueville.
America has never been so carefully defined as it was in de Tocqueville’s classic, democracy in America. Perhaps because he was not an American, the young Frenchman was able to recognize the deep significance in what people native to the country would have seen as commonplace. Cohen, a British and South African journalist, has the same gift. He also has the ability to get people — ordinary people — to talk about themselves. This shows especially in his conversations with a struggling single mother and with vanloads of poor people going from Memphis to the casinos of Mississippi to gamble what little they have in the hope of hitting it big.
There is a trace of didacticism in the book — Cohen does not like religion and he is almost obsessed with economic inequality. But he has an abiding fascination with his topic and has written a strong book.