2007 Gift Guide: Books
Ho, ho, oh no! Christmas is upon us with its glowing green eyes and its red, sharp teeth! But here are a few holiday gift ideas for the Yuletide Beast, and your favorite book worm, to chew on.
Fast away the old year passes, but it leaves behind a trove of books to treasure for years to come. Standouts, notable titles, and overlooked (but deserving) tomes crowd the shelves at bookstores, and there’s no better way to fend off the cold gray winter days than to hear new voices, go new places, even slip on a new skin.
Well-written novels, whether they partake of the heavy-hitting artistry of Don Delillio’s Falling Man or revisit the popular, sunny world of the San Francisco popularized by Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City books, offer characters that take up residence in the psyche; health books like Alan Davidson’s inspirational Body Brilliance may help you rebuild your own self from the mental core right out to the persona you allow yourself to project; biographies, like Kevin Sessums’ growing-up-gay-in-the-South recollections, Mississippi Sissy, can let you know you’r enot alone by revealing the inner life of a brave chronicler, someone probably more like you than you would suspect.
Books can be mere entertainments, or they can be the means to finding more in this life. No list can ever do justice to the wealth of books that populate the shelves even in our post-literate age; but here’s a deep, wide scratch across a bright and exciting literary surface.
You could argue that this fist choice belongs in the GLBT section, but hey: Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City had its legions of straight fans, too, and they must have been as thrilled as any gay fanboy or girl to see that Michael Tolliver Lives! In this fun and thoughtful novel, Maupin shows how he’s grown as a storyteller, and how he’s let Mouse, Brian, Mrs. Madrigal, and even Mary Ann Singleton grow, too: after nearly two decades, the beloved characters are now older, wiser, more universal.
But the year’s blockbuster is unquestionable Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, made all the more electrifying by author J.K. Rowling’s revelation (after the book’s publication and ravaging of the best seller list) that a major character is gay.
With the passing of American literary lion Norman Mailer, now is the time to allow Mailer’s entire catalogue a spot in the sun: some of these books are a half-century old, but for the moment they are better than timeless: they are current once again.
As are the books of Garcia Gabriel Marquez: the movie version of Love in the Time of Cholera may not have lived up to the source material, but any excuse to promote that sublime novel, and the even more brilliant One Hundred Years of Solitude can’t be a bad thing.
And finally: 2007 marked the return of Don DeLillo, a man whose voice is so distinctive that he’s an American genre unto himself. What more fitting topic for DeLillo than 9/11? Falling Man peers deeply into America’s shaken psyche with DeLillo’s trademark blend of compassion and exasperation.
There’s nothing like the DVD boom to delight a movie aficionado... except for a juicy book about Hollywood, the movie factory that everybody loves to hate (and yet, must still love: movies are a multi-billion dollar business). Jeanine Basinger’s The Star Machine is better than any tell-all focusing on one star: this comprehensive tome documents the studio system, a massive operation in the 1930s-1950s in which studios controlled every aspect of the movie biz, from production to publicity to distribution to screenings... and, most notably, the stars, who were groomed, buffed, and polished by a system that knew how to take a nobody and teach them how to be a filmic Everyman or -woman.
If you’re in the market for a dose of reality, however, pick up Al Gore’s sobering, engaging, and enraging The Assault on Reason. He’s warned us about hot air before, but who knew that the cultural version of pollution was making things just as hot as any hydrochlorofluorocarbon compound?
On the other side of the political spectrum is Ann Coulter, any of whose screeds are good for endless laughs. Her new book, titled If Democrats Had Any Brains, They’d Be Republicans, conveniently ignores one central tenant of her own political philosophy: namely, If God Had Wanted Coulter to Have An Opinion, He’d Have Made Her a Man.
There are lots of biographies out there, and choosing one for a long afternoon’s leisurely read is a matter of individual taste and interest. Want to know about the man who took the comic strip and turned it into an unexpected format for philosophy? Check out David Michaelis’ Schultz and Peanuts.
A year just would not be complete without a book or two on the stars of the shining silver screen; last year we got two big releases, one on Ava Gardner by Lee Server, and one on Katharine Hepburn, by William Mann. This year, it’s Bette Davis’ turn for a literary close-up, and Ed Sikov examines her life and career with Dark Victory: The Life of Bette Davis.
Another American Great, the painter Edward Hopper, got the bio treatment this year, in Gail Lovin’s Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography. You know his work, even if you don’t know that you know it: his 1942 painting Night Hawks has inspired endless imitations, homages, and parodies, most famously, Boulevard of Broken Dreams by Gottfried Helnwein: you could be forgiven for thinking that the Helnwein painting was the original, it’s become so iconic.
It’s been said that every person has the right to tell his or her own story. But in the execution, it’s a trick relying more on art than pure technique: the art of seeing oneself from a slight remove, and of having the courage to laugh at one’s of foibles. Kevin Sessums has those gifts, honed over decades as an interviewer of celebrities, and though his life has had points of searing drama, the overall tone of Mississippi Sissy is playful, gentle, and generous.
He’s been called "a thorn in people’s side," but hes also a genius: Craig Venter asserts his importance as a principle player in the Human Genome Project with A Life Decoded: My Genome, My Life.
Another controversial genius who has written down his life from his own perspective is Alan Greenspan, in The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World. The former Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve (from 1987-2006) had godlike power over the American (and, by extension, the world’s) economy: he didn’t a long title, because his name alone was enough to send ripples through the market. Just as others were declaring the "end of history" as at hand, Greenspan was there in the middle of history in the making.
Bi guys get a lot of flack both from straights and gays. What a relief for our sexually ambidextrous brothers that someone--namely, Kemble Scott--has finally told a decent, and unambiguous, story from their point of view, and in the gloriously seedy domain of a sexually sketchy San Francisco neighborhood no less, a place called South of Market, or SoMa for short: a wickedly appropriate title for a book that celebrates, and meditates, on the boundless delights of physical existence.
Gay fave author Michael Thomas Ford kept busy, bringing out Changing Tides, an ambitious, moving story about family, both in the biologically immediate and historically influential senses of the word.
And though Eliot Schrefer may already have impressed with his first novel, his second book, The New Kid confirmed his talent and his passion: it’s a coming of age novel about a brother and a sister both growing into their own identities, and it’s sexy, brutal, tender, and fierce.
Summer wouldn’t be the same without mindless action movies and, paradoxically, smart action novels. The secret of a good thriller is that it’s a book for any season, so don’t be shy about indulging your craving for a ripping good yarn now that winter’s looming. Feel like an ocean cruise... gone wrong? Mitchell Graham’s Majestic Descending is part Poseidon Adventure and part modern-day terrorist page-turner.
Robert Harris has enjoyed success with alternate-past versions of Nazi Germany and Imperial Rome; now he sets a thriller in a thinly fictionalized world all too parallel to our own, in The Ghost, a critical, if indirect, examination of government gone wild.
And while fans of biomedical thrillers wait for the new Gary Braver book, they can dip their toes into The Fifth Vial, by Michael Palmer, a swift and scary read that also has a heart and soul.
So many books, so little room to laud them! But we can’t (simply can’t!) end this article without throwing in a few more odds and ends; Steven Saylor’s Roma was in danger of being overlooked by readers, but we’ll not make that mistake here. A sprawling novel that spans 1,000 years of Roman history--from the city’s founding to the mutation of the Republic into Empire--Roma traces the fortunes of two intertwined families, while examining the long-term forces that shape, create, and ultimately destroy, great civilizations.
The ongoing re-print of the entire run of the Peanuts comic strip is a long-haul publishing project, but that should not disqualify the volumes of The Complete Peanuts, each of which collects about two years’ worth of the strips, with the aim of presenting every single one of Charles Schultz’s estimated 17,897 four-frame episodes.
And for those looking for a different kind of health guide, Alan Davidson’s Body Brilliance is a whole package meant for the whole person: part workout guide, part self-help book, and even part autobiography. The openly gay Davidson had faced the major crises of the GLBT population and lived to share his secrets to living well and being both happy and healthy.
This article is part of our "2007 Holiday Gift Guide" series. Want to read more?
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