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December 11, 2008

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Gifts for the bookworm
By Lisa Parsons letters@hippopress.com

• For the good sport: Why a Curveball Curves: The Incredible Science of Sports, edited by Frank Vizard (Sterling Publishing, 224 pages) is a collection of articles from Popular Mechanics, some written specifically for this book, others already having appeared in the magazine. Thirteen sports are covered in terms enjoyable to fans and players, from beginner to advanced. In five minutes, an article called “Baseball is a Hitter’s Game” from 2003 permanently altered how I watch baseball. The color diagrams are superb and although there’s more information in the book as a whole than any one giftee on your list will probably absorb, there’s no information overload within each article. And the book will keep on giving all year long. In winter, ponder the shock absorbency of football turf, learn how to kick the perfect field goal, make yourself knowledgeable about types of dunk shots, find out “Why Gretzky Is the Greatest.” Later, arm yourself with inside info about tennis and golf, bowling and cycling, and those crazy Olympic swimsuits. 

• For the armchair survivalist: Man vs. Wild: Survival Techniques from the Most Dangerous Places on Earth, by Bear Grylls (Hyperion, 253 pages) I am loving this book, which is a surprise, given that I’m not a Man-vs.-Wild kind of person. Man appreciating Wild, harmonizing with Wild, absolutely. Man enjoying Wild while maintaining a respectful distance from cougars, OK. But please don’t make me drink my own urine. Against my expectations, when I opened the book and began reading, I got hooked. I think I’d have half a chance at starting a fire now, Castaway style, or at least a clue about how to try.

• For the high-end local history buff: Strawbery Banke: A Seaport Museum 400 Years in the Making, by J. Dennis Robinson (2007, Peter E. Randall Publisher, 393 pages) is a solid coffee-table book with lots of pretty pictures, and is more generally about Portsmouth and New Hampshire history than its title implies. Robinson describes it as “really three books”: the history of Portsmouth, the story of the museum, and the illustrations. He has done a bang-up job with each. The book begins with the Native Americans and ends with a “Back to the Future” chapter covering 1985 through 2008. Early chapters are of broad interest to any New Hampshire resident; as the book progresses it gets more narrowly focused on Strawbery Banke preservation efforts.

• For the bird-friendly: The Backyard Birdsong Guide: A Guide to Listening, by Donald Kroodsma (Chronicle Books, 192 pages) Seventy-five birds are listed in this compact hardcover book, and for each one there’s a drawing, a description and a sound recording (with volume control). You might use the book to put a name to an elusive but noisy bird in your yard, or you might just browse. (Some don’t even sound like birds. The barred owls sound kind of like the monkey section at the jungle.) Brilliant idea, accessibly executed, this book comes in two volumes, one for eastern and central North America, and one for western North America. Samples are at www.chroniclebooks.com/backyardbirdsongs.

• For the native know-it-all: Hidden History of New Hampshire, by D. Quincy Whitney (The History Press, 160 pages) is for the putterer, the browser, the person who wants to start in reading right away and be able to, after just a couple pages, start telling you a story he’s just read about New Hampshire’s largest/smallest/first/last/oldest/youngest building/statue/person/event of some kind. And then he’ll throw in his own story about the time he was heading up north and turned down that very road and … or how he disagrees because he thinks he knows an even older building three towns away … or how it reminds him of another story from back home …. Good stories for sharing, and for the history-inclined. For the right person, this could be great bathroom reading material. Few pictures, slim volume, just a series of brief stories.

• For the downsized foodie: Food Jobs, 150 Great Jobs for Culinary Students, Career Changers and Food Lovers, by Irena Chalmers (2008, Beaufort Books, 315 pages) If every time a food-memoir-type book comes out a food-obsessed friend says “why didn’t I think of that” (a-hem, Julie & Julia), this might be the book for that friend. This book looks at all manner of food-related jobs, from actual food service and creation (Arctic chef, specialty market owner, pastry chef) to a variety of kinds of food writing and food education. The book is peppered with stories of people who are living the food-job dream (food stylist, farmer, Cook’s Illustrated publisher Christopher Kimball). If might not be the first step on the road to becoming the next White House chef, but it offers interesting advice on how to find a career doing something you’re passionate about.

• For everyone who doesn’t hate nature: This one is not new, but it deserves a place on every year’s gift list: Northeastern Wilds: Journeys of Discovery in the Northern Forest, by Stephen Gorman (2002, Appalachian Mountain Club Books, 178 pages) Stephen Gorman has explored Alaska, the Rocky Mountains and beyond, and when he finally turned his attention to his home, the northeast, he found “a wild realm as vast as anything I’d seen out West.” Northeastern Wilds is a you-are-there expression of the simple elegance of canoeing, showshoeing, skiing, hiking, and lakeside camping, both in ordinary places you might know and in some extreme places you’re unlikely to go. His photographs have a stunningly lifelike quality not found in shopping-mall “Nature” prints. In fact his photos are so amazing you’ll be tempted to just look at the pictures and ignore the words — and if you did that you’d still have gotten your money’s worth — but don’t; his insights are worth the trip too. Visit www.stephengorman.com for a look at Gorman’s photographs, articles and other books.