ASP's Gift Guide for Book Lovers
Part 1: The Historian, The Dramatist, and The Laureate
Well, it’s that time of year again, when holiday gift lists are popping up all over. Here at ASP HQ, we’re particularly interested, of course, in gifts for book-lovers, and we’ve noticed a curious fact: No matter how diverse the sources of these lists, a few titles pop up again and again. Usually these are recently published, widely reviewed best-sellers. While there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, gift-givers might find themselves putting one more copy of the current hot mystery, or history, or memoir under a book-loving friend’s tree.
So this year, we decided to come up with a few lists of our own. We’ve asked each of our authors to suggest five great holiday gift books in a field or genre where they have particular expertise. Some are new, some are old; some are from indie presses, some are from the big ones. But none of them are likely to be duplicated in your reader pal’s pile, and all are guaranteed to delight. Our first list covers history, poetry, and books for fantasy lovers and film-makers. Stay tuned for part 2!
James J. Patterson
is a life-long history buff. He is the author of a book of personal essays, Bermuda Shorts, and a novel on the Dakota Oil Boom of the 1970s, Roughnecks. He is our resident Henry Miller scholar, and recently wrote an essay for ASP about the meaning of Armistice Day in 2018. We asked him for five great titles in the History genre. What he had to say may surprise you:
Good histories don’t always come in thick, complicated tomes filled with names and dates, wars and calamities. They can also come in novels, surveys, letters and many other forms of good literature. Here are five histories that changed the way I think about a myriad of topics.
Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists by Kay Larson, Penguin Press.
Larson introduces us to the Avant Guard fleeing wartime Europe – twice – and fills in many blanks in what we know regarding modern art and the world-changing minds of those who make the art we love, and love to hate. Hint: John Lennon’s “Revolution Number 9” suddenly makes sense!
Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier, Grove Press.
This novel follows a language studies professor’s late-life-crisis into the dark recesses of the Portuguese/Spanish underground during the fight against fascism.
The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science by Richard Holmes, Vintage Press.
This author will have no truck with right brain/left brain explanations of art and creativity. Here we meet the brilliant lunatics who invented hot air balloon travel and laughing gas, the first famous female astronomer, and a host of others from the 19th century. The reader forms a kinship with them all.
The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig, University of Nebraska (reprint).
A heart-breaking love letter to the world of high culture and fin de siècle Europe before it was destroyed by the First World War.
The Children’s Book, by A.S. Byatt, Knopf.
A deliciously long novel about writers, potters, and painters at the turn of the last century, this book dives into their trials, loves, and experimental hijinks, and includes a walk through the Paris Exhibition of 1900. You’ll wish you were there.
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Mark A. Pritchard
is a film-maker as well as a writer and lover of fantasy. He is the author of the brilliant and timely YA novel, Billy Christmas. Here are his top five gift book suggestions:
Excession, by Iain M. Banks, Time Warner Books.
One of the reasons I'm a writer is the work of Banks, specifically his divine sci-fi. He was a fearless wordsmith, creating vast landscapes and compelling cultures I simply longed to visit. Damn, I really miss him.
The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, by Alan Garner, HarperCollins.
The historian, Diarmaid MacCulloch, was kind enough to remark that my novel, Billy Christmas, reminded him of this book. It's one of the nicest, improbably kind, things anyone has ever said about my writing. I remember being read this by my mother. Utterly captivating.
Writing for Emotional Impact: Advanced Dramatic Techniques to Attract, Engage, and Fascinate the Reader from Beginning to End, by Karl Iglesias, Wing Span Publishing.
I've changed a few gears in recent years and addressed an itch to both write and direct for the screen. This book resonates tremendously with me. One needs a different toolkit for the screen, and this outstanding book has really helped.
150 Screenwriting Challenges, by Eric Heisserer, Amazon digital.
I hate writing exercises, as I prefer to pour energy into the work, whatever it is. This book is the exception. Eric Heisserer, who wrote the screenplay for the film, “Arrival,” put this book together, and it's all in his voice, giving his honest view on flexing into the territory. If I get in a jam, I'll often look here.
Secret Weapons, by Eric Heisserer, Valiant Entertainment/Comics.
I'm not a graphic novel junkie, but I love great examples and this is such. Deft story skills, sublime art, and a new take on a familiar genre. If Heisserer isn't allowed to adapt this into film one day, it'll be a travesty.
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will be sworn in as the state of Maryland’s new Poet Laureate next year. Each month she puts out a poetry review round-up for the Washington Independent Review of Books. She gives us her five picks for poetry lovers:
The Lumberjack’s Dove, by Gennarose Nethercott, Ecco/Harper Collins.
A Lumberjack loses a hand to his own axe. The hand becomes a dove. The hand tries to fly away but the lumberjack catches it beneath his shoe. The Lumberjack ties one end of a string to the hand & the other end to his belt. Then the Lumberjack walks out of the forest, the airborne hand fluttering along behind. Every line spins a different version of itself; and throughout, the storyteller unravels how the story is being told.
Sing Silence, by Le Hinton, Iris G. Press.
Cotton. How can book of nearly 90 pages address one word? Hinton’s does, because each poem shows a stain on American history. Cotton becomes the antecedent for anger, the main character in a play; cotton speaks for itself; it’s reviled, described, and chillingly said. There are interviews with cotton, uses, remembrances – but beneath it all are the backs broken under scorching suns for an economy built on that breakage.
American Journal, Fifty Poems for Our Time, Selected and Introduced by Tracy K. Smith, Poet Laureate of the United States, Graywolf Press.
The book is about 6” x 4” – a tiny book packed with poets Smith feels are building poetry and influencing us. In the intro, Smith describes her poets “as people who love poems the way I do…” She presents the powers of personal identities in cultural collective. She honors Robert Hayden as the first African-American to serve as US poet Laureate and she exemplifies his contribution to Americanness. Fifty poets make up a cultural debate.
The Known Universe, by Terence Winch, Hanging Loose Press.
“Wit” is defined as mental sharpness, intelligence, and inventiveness; the first two would be nothing without the third. Winch writes as if he’s the first person on earth to look around and strip the world of pretense, leaving only the funny and the painful, which he makes magically the same. In the tradition of Wilde, Shaw, O’Hara, Beckett, Winch’s work is full of paradoxes, irony, and a systemic itchiness that leans into philosophical brilliance.
Virgin, by Analicia Sotelo. Milkweed. 93 pages.
The book explores taste, revelation, humiliation, pastoral, myth, and parable, all with an overlapping theme: male/female relationships. Others have written on these topics – in fact, it seems everyone has — so how can these poems feel so new, so exciting, and so dangerous? Whether it’s about a mother and father, an old lover, or male summoning, Sotelo goes in two directions at once. She embraces her own autonomy while evaluating attraction and thirst.