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Even Grinches Can Get Behind Books as Gifts — Here Are Some Ideas

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An excerpt from 'Rad American Women Worldwide,' by Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl.  (Photo: Ten Speed Press)

If you’ve ever seen How the Grinch Stole Christmas, just replace me with Dr. Seuss’ green-skinned curmudgeon, and you’ll understand how I feel about the American consumer’s most sacred national holiday. “You’re a mean one, Ms. Clark…


Yes, I’m the type of mom who thinks her daughter should be grateful for a couple of books wrapped in recycled  paper. That’s because new books make the best presents! They can be enjoyed over and over again, they take up very little space, they provide endless adventure without having to get anywhere near an airplane, and when you’re done, they can be easily passed on to a friend or donated to the local public library. What’s more, the Bay Area has no shortage of cozy and well-lit independent bookstores: Green Apple, City Lights, Book Passage, Kepler’s, Omnivore, Dog Eared, Diesel, Books Inc., the Booksmith, Mrs. Dalloway’s, Copperfield’s, and many more.

So, without further adieu, here are five suggestions for book gifts, all published in 2016, paired with the ideal recipient. Happy book holidays from my grinchy heart to yours!

'Rad Women Worldwide'
‘Rad Women Worldwide’

Rad American Women Worldwide

by Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl

For rad kids and/or parents: The latest Rad Women installment from Bay Area authors Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl is just as good as the first. Kids ages five and up will love this collection of short stories and beautiful illustrated portraits of the “artists and athletes, pirates and punks, and other revolutionaries who shaped history.” These include Frida Kahlo, Emma Goldman, Nanny of the Maroons, Poly Styrene (of X-Ray Spex), Qui Jin, and so many more. Like Jin says, “Don’t tell me women aren’t the stuff of heroes.” Also consider Rad Families: A Celebration, edited by Tomas Moniz of Rad Dad, as a sort of companion book for progressive parents. The book collects essays by a diverse assortment of writers on topics like trans birth, feminist parenting, empty nesting and police brutality.

'Ongoingness' by Sarah Manguso
‘Ongoingness’ by Sarah Manguso


by Sarah Manguso

For fans of break-the-mold narrative styles: Don’t expect this sparse collection of short reflections on birth, mortality, and identity by Bay Area resident Sarah Manguso to cheer anyone up in these end days of 2016. “The best thing about time passing is the privilege of running out of it, of watching the wave of mortality break over me and everyone I know. No more time, no more potential. The privilege of ruling things out. Finishing, knowing I’m finished. And knowing time will go on without me.” Fans of Maggie Nelson and Leslie Jamison will enjoy the tight, seering prose style that’s been perfected by Manguso over the course of numerous book collections.

'Farmsteads of the California Coast'
‘Farmsteads of the California Coast’

Farmsteads of the California Coast

by Sarah Henry

For fans of local food, farming, and landscapes: Filled with lovely photographs by Erin Scott and sweet portraits of farmers by Sarah Henry, this book from San Francisco’s Yellow Pear Press will inspire even the most jaded foodie to hit the road in search of fresh scenery.  A farmstead, writes Henry, includes agricultural land, along with barns, farmstands and other structures contained on a property. “Small family farms continue to thrive on the California coast, despite economic and social challenges to a way of life that was once commonplace,” she continues. From Petaluma’s Green String Farm (which has long supplied vegetables to Chez Panisse in Berkeley) to Pie Ranch in Pescadero and Gospel Flat Farm in Bolinas, the book explores the Bay Area’s thriving agricultural scene by way of individual stories. Anyone interested in local food will love this one.

'Unseen City' by Nathanael Johnson
‘Unseen City’ by Nathanael Johnson

Unseen City: The Majesty of Pigeons, the Discreet Charm of Snails & Other Wonders of Urban Wilderness

by Nathanial Johnson

For the urban explorer and people that love The Pilgrim at Tinker Creek: Unseen City opens with Johnson, a Berkeley resident and food editor at Grist, walking around the streets of San Francisco with his then-one-year-old daughter Josephine. Her perpetual questions about everything — the trees, the sky, the leaves — compels the new father to purchase a used copy of The Trees of San Francisco. From there, he embarks of a journey of exploration into the creatures and plants that make up a city: pigeons, weeds, squirrels, turkey vultures, ants, crows, ginkos, birds, and snails. Also called synanthropes, these are the species that thrive alongside humans. “We have traded local knowledge for mobility,” writes Johnson. “This lack of local knowledge yields a world that is less meaningful — literally less filled with meaning — which abrades the soul. If you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are, as Wendell Berry as phrased it.” Help someone retrieve their soul and buy them this book.

'Homegoing' by Yaa Gyasi
‘Homegoing’ by Yaa Gyasi


by Yaa Gyasi

For lovers of the fabulous, enthralling historical novel: In this historical moment, when we awake from years of denial about pervasive racism in the United States, this debut novel by Berkeley resident Yaa Gyasi has become even more essential reading. I wrote about the book on its release last July and stand by my glowing review; Gyasi also recently appeared on KQED’s Forum for an interview. Anyone interested in history will find new lessons in Homegoing about the role and effect of slavery on early America and as well as modern generations, while fans of fast-paced, entertaining novels will be carried away by the precise and powerful character development. Yes, indeed, this book has something for everyone. If you’re looking for a novel for the fiction-loving history buff in your life, this is it.


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