Books to Give and Get

Cover of "Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See,...Cover via AmazonWhile the good people of the world may be finishing up their holiday buying and wrapping presents about now, some of us are just getting started. Here are my favorite books of the last year in the hopes that someone you know might like them too, for, as per my last post, if we work together we can handle this season with a minimum of chaos and a maximum of butter and wine (not necessarily in that pairing).

1. Drift by Victoria Patterson. Described as a modern-day Edith Wharton, Patterson is a writer to watch. The short stories in this debut collection are so gorgeously written and the characters are so real and flawlessly constructed that, being me, I ended up feeling sorry for myself because I knew that, in my wildest dreams, I would never be able to write anything this good. Intense and dark, you'll feel yourself pulled into the undertow, but you'll be glad you let yourself go. Apparently she has a novel coming out in March. I might have to hate her.

2. The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. Normally, I would not have gotten near these young adult novels about a dystopia where teens are forced to fight to the death. But my daughter made me read them, and--I'm telling you, people--I haven't had so much fun reading in years. The books are fraught full of danger and excitement, but there is also a sweet, sweet romance featuring a hero that is almost Mr. Darcy good. I loved them.

3. Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell and Know by Alexandra Horowitz. Ok. Let me put on my crazy-dog-lady hat. I love anything that helps me understand my dog. Enough said. Written by a New Yorker staff writer who went off and got a PhD in (I think) neuroscience, this book explains why your dog does what she does and why that makes her so lovable.

4. Eat: Los Angeles. I won this--HA--at one of my favorite LA blogs, u want 2 Go-Go, and I have found it so practical and fun for so many food-related things. Best of all, it's arranged geographically so I never need to read about restaurants on the westside of LA if all I really want to know is a good place to eat that's close to home. (Stupid LA Times west-centric Food section.) A 2011 edition is now available.

5. In the Face of Fear: Buddhist Wisdom for Challenging Times, edited by Barry Boyce, et all. Having evolved into a woman who lives by the Carrie Fisher mantra, "Cry all you want; you'll pee less," I'm a sucker for this kind of stuff. Featuring essays by the Dalai Lama and other writers inspired by Buddhist wisdom, this is a good book to have by your bedside when you're caught in the whirlpool of chaos and anxiety.
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Margaret said...

I tried to put together a variety of kinds and types of books for this list, but when I was doing so I realized that I didn't read anything this whole year that really made me laugh. Any suggestions? I'd also just love to hear what you enjoyed reading this year. Thoughts?

Joanne said...

I like the sound of Drift, will have to check it out. I'm reading Just Kids right now, Patti Smith's memoir that won the National Book Award. I'm a little on the fence with it, though.

Olga said...

I will definitely get hold of Inside a Dog and In the Face of Fear. One for my dear husband, one for me. I read Just Kids and I did like it, but it is not a humorous book. Because our family has a Hartford/Newington, Connecticut connection, we loved Matthew Dicks: Something Missing, but I believe it would be funny without the place association. It is about an OCD burglar who gets involved with his "clients'" lives. It is just fun.

Daisy said...

I have read "Inside a Dog". But for a laugh I'll stick with your blog Margaret! "Cry all you want; you'll pee less" Indeed! :-D

altadenahiker said...

Well, maybe this isn't exactly a feel-good book (and I did suggest it to Restless Chef and never heard back, but I'll fearlessly charge ahead): Into the Silent Land, Travels in Neuropsychology. It reminds me of Kundera. Though, unlike Kundera, the reader must add his or her own sense of redemption.

Daisy said...

Just remembered one of the books that had me laughing out loud like a crazy person! Marley and Me, by John Grogan.

Jean Spitzer said...

Most of the laugh out loud reading has been supplied by a private supply, and by this blog and the Hiker's.

Petrea said...

Victoria Patterson is soCal local, isn't she? I should read this. I like to love/hate great authors, too. Right now I'm (finally) reading Niffenegger's "The Time Traveler's Wife" and love/hating her.

By the way, Eat: Los Angeles is published by Prospect Park Media, and not that I should be self-promoting on your blog but I'm giving away one of their coffee table books, "At Home Pasadena" on my blog today. Lovely publisher, Colleen Dunn Bates, edited Eat: Los Angeles.

Ooh, I just discovered "eat" has a cool website. http://eat-la.com/

I'm with Daisy, your blog always makes me laugh.

Rois said...

My favorite read this year was
"Shadow of the Wind" by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.
Intrigue,romance,books and a bit of crime.I actually read it twice because I just had to.
I read about a book a week and "Shadow of the Wind" is the only one that has stuck with me this year.
I also like Pema Chdron's "When things fall apart" for self help,I think I am falling apart,going crazy or just needing some centering.

Star said...

Constant companion: Marcus Aurelius' "Meditations."

Had lots of train commute time for about nine months. Read a few Gore Vidal for the first time (blush), and heartily enjoyed them, but the three that stick out most are:

---Shaffer, Mary Ann & Anne Barrows, "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society," Bloomsbury, 2008
--Yourcenar, Marguerite's masterpiece, "The Memoirs of Hadrian" (translating the title from Italian)
--Pears, Ian, "The Dream of Scipio," Vintage, 2003 (His "The Instance of the Fingerpost," read years ago, also was excellent)

For laughs and comfort, I pull out a treasured gift of years ago: Booth, George, "Rehearsal's Off!," Dodd, Mead & Co., 1976

Shell Sherree said...

Inside of a Dog and In the Face of Fear both sound like my cup of tea. As for laughs, I haven't read any funny books this year ~ but I've had plenty of belly laughs thanks to you and Hiker!

Deb said...

Thanks for the list of book recommendations - may come in handy for gift buying.

Carrie recently read "The Art of Racing in the Rain" by Garth Stein - a story told from a dog's point of view and she loved it.

And BTW, Carrie's dog Marcus is a friend she rescued from a shelter a little over a year ago. He's a sweet spirit and such a good companion for her. ♥

Em said...

Inside a Dog sounds wonderful, as does the Buddhist book about fear both sound good to me. I'm also a fan of YA, so I'm sure I'll end up reading your daughter's recommendation as well.

Unfortunately, I'm unemployed and have been re-reading old favourites this year instead of buying new books.

pattiwag said...

You've inspired me to visit the library.

Margaret said...

Joanne: On the fence? Too day, and I thought it was supposed to be so good.

Olga: I'll check out Someting Missing. The premise sounds fun.

Ah: It must be nonfiction? Right? Is it about neuroscience? Cuz I actually really like reading about that.

Daisy: But doesn't the dog die? Can I handle that?

Petrea: Patterson is local, and brilliant. As for Prospect Park, I'm so glad Colleen is local and publishing all this great regional stuff.

Rois and Star: All your recommendations sound good. I'll be sure to look into them.

Margaret said...

Em: Luckily there's always the library. Good luck with everything.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

Are we supposed to be creating a list here?


Ive read "Mirrors Stories of Almost Everyone" by Eduardo Galleano. I'd like to read his "Open Veins of Latin America"

books I haven't finished yet but plan too

A History of God: Karen Armstrong
Ecology of Fear and
City of Quartz by Mike Davis

The next book I plan to start
In Defense of Objects by Linda Dove

and of course I never miss the goddesses over at Finnegan Begin Again

Cafe Pasadena said...

I have an autographed 1st Edition of EAT La!! My fav restaurant review book! Bidding starts at $500.

Btw, this is year-tax tax season. Depending on your case you may get a deduction if u give some of your mostly unread, unused or used, books to the Friends of the Pasadena Public Library.

I did. Besides, it's supposed to bee better to Give than to Get!

Daisy said...

I also like Pema Chdron, She has some talks on youtube as well!

Yes Margaret, Marley dies. But as you said "cry all you want, you'll pee less!" I had a good cry, and lots of laughs - both are good.

uwant2gogo said...

The book that made me laugh out loud this year is an as-yet-unpublished (but not for long, I wager!)book by someone beloved by all readers on this site.

You know who you are....

For those less industrious than Margaret -- she contributed the delicious suggestion My Vegan restaurant on U Want 2 Go Go to win -- I can testify that Eat:Los Angeles is the perfect holiday gift book. Former giftees have been known to oh-so-casually mention around Christmas time that they love, love, love the book and, oh, by the way, is there a new edition coming out this year? They don't SAY "hint, hint"...out loud at least.

pasadenapio said...

That's a nice list, Margaret.

Inside of a Dog is one of my Christmas gifts to my granddaughter Kimberly! She and her dog Rusty are practically inseparable.

Allow me to plug the 2011 One City, One Story novel for Pasadena: Mudbound by Hillary Jordan. Activities for our annual community reading celebration begin in March. I'm giving it to several people this Christmas.

Susan Campisi said...

I have an autographed copy of Eat: Los Angeles too. It's the perfect gift for one of my friend's; I hadn't thought of that. Thanks for the tip.

I bought "Blame" recently and really like it; thank you for that recommendation as well. I'd love to read all the books on your list. Oh, if there were only more minutes in the day!

MelRoXx said...

The third book you mentioned sounds interesting! It sounds wonderful! x

Desiree said...

Love it!

Paula L. Johnson said...

I recommend "The Art of Racing in the Rain." It's no secret the that the dog dies—in a way. The ending will make you cheer.