December 2011

Great gifts that run the gamut

Feature by
December 2011

Great gifts that run the gamut

Feature by
December 2011

Great gifts that run the gamut

Feature by
Share this Article:

Are you trying to tackle a towering gift list? Never fear! No matter who you’re shopping for, the right book is waiting.

As an elementary school student, I had the good fortune to be part of a private White House Christmas tour led by my classmate’s aunt, who was First Lady Pat Nixon’s press secretary. Decades later, I continue to be fascinated by the White House, and The White House: The President’s Home in Photographs and History is indeed a mesmerizing tour, boasting 278 photographs along with a highly readable, informative text by photography critic Vicki Goldberg.

Here’s a sampling of the intriguing photos within these pages: a biplane about to land on the White House lawn in 1911, flown by a student of the Wright brothers; smoke billowing out of the White House during a 1929 Christmas Eve fire that erupted as President Hoover and his wife hosted a party for the children of their staff; a press secretary in 1957 using office equipment that was crammed inside a bathroom; Betty Ford dancing barefoot on top of the Cabinet Room table; Caroline Kennedy visiting President Obama in the Oval Office as they inspect the desk that her father once used.

There’s something interesting on every page of this comprehensive photographic journey.

Perhaps, like me, you’ve heard about Comic-Con for years and wondered what it’s all about. Here’s an insider’s look at the “world’s largest pop-culture event,” in the form of both a new documentary and this companion book by Oscar-nominated director Morgan Spurlock, Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope.

Think of this convention as Halloween on steroids, as adults, families, geeks, comic creators and fans dress up as their favorite super­heroes and comic characters and meet and mingle, all gloriously captured in living color by photographer Alba Tull. Also present are legends and pioneers of the business, such as Stan Lee (the comic book creator of Spider-Man), Iron Man, Thor and other superheroes.

Leafing through this colorful portrait gallery is like wandering through the convention floor and having a quick chat with the fans. Why do they come? What do they love? What do they talk about? “Battlestar Galactica” actor Richard Hatch sums up Comic-Con like this: “People want to come and feel part of something—feel connected to the greater world and be part of this magical industry that has kind of been a savior, I think, for a lot of people’s lives.”

The RecordSetter Book of World Records is the sort of book that my three teen and almost-teen children are bound to devour. Authors Corey Henderson and Dan Rollman founded their own website ( in 2008 after finding the submission process for the Guinness Book of World Records both limiting and overly daunting. Their website’s goal is to invent, beat and discuss world records, and the founders’ philosophy is that “everyone on earth can be the world’s best at something.”

The website itself is fun, creative and inclusive, as is this book, which features records, interviews and tips for setting and beating new records. There’s no end to the inventive feats celebrated, such as: fastest time to open a bag of Skittles and sort them by color (21.5 seconds); most KISS songs named in one minute (45); largest group to sit on balloons and pop them at once (117 people); and most text messages sent and received in a single month (200,052)—a record set by a 19-year-old who, not surprisingly, developed blisters on his thumbs.

Let’s just say that this book is the perfect party gift!

Move over, Ann Landers and Dear Abby. As Philip Galanes explains, his popular New York Times column is “Not Your Mummy’s Advice Column.” He’s collected many of the outrageous questions he’s received and answered in Social Q’s: How To Survive the Quirks, Quandaries and Quagmires of Today.

The book is arranged into chapters addressing dilemmas related to social situations, public transportation, work, romance, family and money matters, all with wonderful titles such as “Step Away from That Keyboard! E-mails, Texts, and the Three Commandments for E-Living.” With the holidays soon to be here, you’ll learn whether you have to keep shelling out gifts to teenaged relatives who never bother to thank you for them. “Move on,” Galanes advises. Is it okay to approach a fellow commuter on whom you have developed a crush? He tells this questioner, “It’s a free country, Brooke. So long as you keep your clothes on.” (He adds a few cautionary notes, however).

Galanes dishes out reasonable, well thought-out answers to these questions and more. This book is a fun romp through other people’s problems, regardless of whether you face them yourself.

On a more nostalgic note, here’s a lovely compendium for anyone who’s a fan of Norman Rockwell, American history, literature and music. Included in Norman Rockwell’s Spirit of America are 100 color and 50 black-and-white illustrations painted by Rockwell, as well as eight color plates that are separate, ready-to-frame prints. The inspiring paintings are accompanied by excerpts from songs, stories, speeches and more from our nation’s history.

These glimpses into our country’s past are great fun to peruse, and an excellent education for younger readers, who can take a look at an old-fashioned voting booth, a drugstore soda counter, a stern schoolmaster and a crooning barbershop quartet. The literary excerpts feature plenty of well-known names, such as Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, Martin Luther King Jr., Laura Ingalls Wilder and O. Henry. Cuddle up with this collection on a cold winter’s night, and you’re bound to stumble upon some hidden gems, such as Ogden Nash’s ode to being a father, which includes lines like these: “But all children matures / Maybe even yours. // You improve them mentally / And straighten them dentally.”

The rest of the poem is equally delightful, and just one of the many treasures found in this literary and artistic collection.

The RecordSetter Book of World Records

ISBN 9780761165774

Review By

Get a custom reading list from BookPage!

Stay on top of new releases: Sign up for our newsletter to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres every Tuesday.

Recent Features