I never got my book list up for Christmas but I’ve got a few adult recommendations and a few kids ones, in case you need something to keep you (or a child!) occupied over the rest of the break.
This has been a lousy reading year for me. My Mother-in-law gave me The Goldfinch by Donna Tart last year for Christmas and I’ve completely failed at getting through it. I am laying the blame for this one squarely on my daughter, who arrived a mere two weeks after receiving the book. Let’s just say that I haven’t been able to focus on anything, let alone a 775 page tome. But I am determined to finish it! At this rate, wee little Em will be pushing 10 by the time I’ve turned the last page.
I did manage to zip through the utterly fabulous Bel Canto by Anne Patchett while on vacation. I loved it. Her storytelling style is delicate and poetic. My mother said she read the book right up to the last chapter, and then waited a week, because she wanted to savor the deliciousness of the story before it came to a close. I am immediately adding everything else by the author to my book list.
Chris, following our trip to the Grand Canyon, read The Emerald Mile by Kevin Fedarko. It’s one of his best picks for the year.
One of my favorites from this year remains The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown. Washington! Rowing! My kind of book! But in talking to friends and family, I think it would definitely be appreciated by non-rowing folk as well. I can’t tell you how many people have come up to me and said: “Hey, you’re a rower. Have you read Boys in the Boat?! I loved that book!"
Ben got some books for Christmas and I am especially fond of the one I picked out as the illustrations are delightful, the words have a lovely rhyming cadence, and some pages require the reader to find hidden animals. This is one I could read all day. The Circus Ship, by Chris Van Dusen. “Five miles off the coast of Maine, and slightly overdue, a circus ship was steaming south in fog as thick as stew”.
And Emma is now the proud owner of Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae. I’m a sucker for the rhyming books, it’s true. But this one will have you tapping your feet and strutting your stuff as your wee little babe claps approvingly.
In an unnamed South American country, a world-renowned soprano sings at a birthday party in honor of a visiting Japanese industrial titan. His hosts hope that Mr. Hosokawa can be persuaded to build a factory in their Third World backwater. Alas, in the opening sequence, just as the accompanist kisses the soprano, a ragtag band of 18 terrorists enters the vice-presidential mansion through the air conditioning ducts. Their quarry is the president, who has unfortunately stayed home to watch a favorite soap opera. And thus, from the beginning, things go awry.
The story begins with an explosion at the Metropolitan Museum that kills narrator Theo Decker's beloved mother and results in his unlikely possession of a Dutch masterwork called The Goldfinch. Shootouts, gangsters, pillowcases, storage lockers, and the black market for art all play parts in the ensuing life of the painting in Theo's care. With the same flair for suspense that made The Secret History (1992) such a masterpiece, The Goldfinch features the pulp of a typical bildungsroman—Theo's dissolution into teenage delinquency and climb back out, his passionate friendship with the very funny Boris, his obsession with Pippa (a girl he first encounters minutes before the explosion)—but the painting is the novel's secret heart. Theo's fate hinges on the painting, and both take on depth as it steers Theo's life.
The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon
In the spring of 1983, massive flooding along the length of the Colorado River confronted a team of engineers at the Glen Canyon Dam with an unprecedented emergency that may have resulted in the most catastrophic dam failure in history. In the midst of this crisis, the decision to launch a small wooden dory named “The Emerald Mile” at the head of the Grand Canyon, just fifteen miles downstream from the Glen Canyon Dam, seemed not just odd, but downright suicidal.
The Emerald Mile, at one time slated to be destroyed, was rescued and brought back to life by Kenton Grua, the man at the oars, who intended to use this flood as a kind of hydraulic sling-shot. The goal was to nail the all-time record for the fastest boat ever propelled—by oar, by motor, or by the grace of God himself—down the entire length of the Colorado River from Lee’s Ferry to Lake Mead. Did he survive? Just barely. Now, this remarkable, epic feat unfolds here, in The Emerald Mile.
The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
It was an unlikely quest from the start. With a team composed of the sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the University of Washington’s eight-oar crew team was never expected to defeat the elite teams of the East Coast and Great Britain, yet they did, going on to shock the world by defeating the German team rowing for Adolf Hitler. The emotional heart of the tale lies with Joe Rantz, a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not only to regain his shattered self-regard but also to find a real place for himself in the world. Drawing on the boys’ own journals and vivid memories of a once-in-a-lifetime shared dream, Brown has created an unforgettable portrait of an era, a celebration of a remarkable achievement, and a chronicle of one extraordinary young man’s personal quest.
The Circus Ship:
When a circus ship runs aground off the coast of Maine, the poor animals are left on their own to swim the chilly waters. Staggering onto a nearby island, they soon win over the wary townspeople with their kind, courageous ways. So well do the critters blend in that when the greedy circus owner returns to claim them, villagers of all species conspire to outsmart the bloated blowhard. With buoyant rhymes and brilliantly caricatured illustrations evoking the early nineteenth century, Chris Van Dusen presents a hugely entertaining tale about the bonds of community — and a rare hidden-pictures spread for eagle-eyed readers of all ages.
Giraffes Can’t Dance
Giraffes Can't Dance is a touching tale of Gerald the giraffe, who wants nothing more than to dance. With crooked knees and thin legs, it's harder for a giraffe than you would think. Gerald is finally able to dance to his own tune when he gets some encouraging words from an unlikely friend.