Book suggestions range from science to fantasy

December 8, 1996
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@

Yes, it's true, a book really is a gift that can be opened again and again. Books make my holiday shopping easy and pleasurable. Half the fun, for me, is finding a book that I know will be just right for someone special.

Since I'm so full of confidence, I thought I'd pass along some suggestions that might help those of you long on shopping lists and short on ideas.

First, four local authors:
A memoir of science and blindness,
  • "Privileged Hands: A Scientific Life" (W.H. Freeman, $23.95), by UC Davis geology Professor Geerat Vermeij;
    A long-awaited unicorn fantasy,
  • "The Unicorn Sonata" (Turner Publishing, $16.95) by Peter S. Beagle;
    A non-fiction travel/adventure book,
  • "Sahara Unveiled: A Journey Across the Desert" (Pantheon, $24) by William Langewiesche; and
    A novel about a Midwestern blues musician,
  • "Dirty Bird Blues," (Mercury House, $22.95) by UCD English Professor Clarence Major.

  • For children, Kabouter Products of Oakland has published two charming picture books for the season:
  • "Fairies" ($12.95) and
  • "Sandman" ($13.95) with evocative illustrations by European artists. A "Fairies" calendar also is available.

  • It seems like publishers never come up with much for pre-teen and teen-age boys. So when I saw that the basketball film documentary "Hoop Dreams" had been turned into a paperback, I grabbed it.
  • "Hoop Dreams" (HarperPerennial, 1995) tells the story of two boys from Chicago's inner-city and their hopes of becoming basketball stars.

  • And what about poets?
  • "Harping On" (Copper Canyon Press, 1996) is the latest collection (1985-1995) from Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Carolyn Kizer who celebrates women's lives with wit and verve.

  • History
  • "The Road to Hell" (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1996) by journalist Paul Liberatore is an altogether different book, a work of non-fiction, about the black revolutionary George Jackson, the white attorney Stephen Bingham and the San Quentin Massacre of August 1971. While Liberatore brings us up to date on this uniquely bloody chapter in Northern California history, he leaves questions unanswered. For instance, if Bingham didn't do it, who smuggled the gun into prison that Jackson concealed in his Afro? Jackson then used the gun in a failed attempt to break out of prison. Six people, including Jackson himself, were killed.

  • For the book lover on your holiday list,
  • "A History of Reading" by essayist Alberto Manguel (Viking, 1996), describes highlights of 6,000 years of reading: from clay tablets to scrolls, codex to CD-Rom.

  • Anthology
  • "Highway 99" (Heyday Books, 1996) is a collection of writings by authors connected to California's Central Valley. The list is enough to make anyone connected to the area proud as it includes Mary Austin, Joan Didion, Gerald Haslam, Philip Levine, Richard Rodriguez, Gary Snyder and Gary Soto, among many others. Edited by Stan Yogi.

  • For those who like readable history,
  • "The Children of Henry VIII" by Alison Weir (Ballantine, 1996), is perfect. She goes beyond the stereotypes to bring to life Henry VIII's four heirs: the boy king, Edward VI, who could have been one of England's greatest kings had he not died at age 15; Lady Mary, daughter of his first wife Katherine of Aragon; Lady Elizabeth, daughter of his second wife Anne Boleyn, and his tragic great-niece, Lady Jane Grey, who ruled for only nine days and was executed for her efforts.

  • Conspiracy buffs will love Norman Mailer's
  • "Oswald's Tale: An American Mystery," now out in paperback (Ballantine, 1996). At more than 750 pages, this will provide a lot of reading pleasure well into the new year.

  • Those who enjoy politics will like
  • "Willie Brown," the biography by journalist James Richardson (University of California Press, 1996). And don't forget the biography of Phillip Burton, published last year by journalist John Jacobs. That's
  • "A Rage for Justice: The Passion and Politics of Phillip Burton" (University of California Press, 1995).

  • Finally, if you like short stories,
  • "Writer's Harvest: A Collection of New Fiction" edited by Ethan Canin (Harcourt Brace, 1996) is an excellent choice, particularly since sale proceeds will got to Share Our Strength anti-hunger programs. Writers such as Louis B. Jones, a UCD graduate, are included.

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