January 3, 2011

Spend Your Gift Cards on These Winter Reads

By Sherri Breitigan, Contributing Writer

Thanks to the gift-giving season, many people now have gift cards for bookstores, or are looking to return The Purpose-Driven Life because they already have three copies.

To ease your literary angst, take a look at this short list of various reads; some old, some newer, that fit a spectrum of tastes and purposes. Break out the hot cocoa, fleece blankets, and the adult footy pajamas you ordered secretly from the SkyMall catalog, and happy reading.

Meditations in an Emergency by Frank O'Hara

This short collection of poems is poignant and arresting, with O'Hara writing in the same time period of other poetic greats like Ginsberg and Kerouac. However, he manages to stand out against such a powerful crowd, and his words have stayed with me since. For a contemporary reference, Don Draper on Mad Men read from this collection during the second season of the show.

Recommended for: Those tiptoeing on the side of literary and looking for a good commute read.
Not recommended for: People avoiding self-reflection.

Duma Key by Stephen King

King's newer collection of short stories, Full Dark, No Stars is on my to-read list, and winter is always a great time to acquaint yourself with the master of horror writing. I'm a wimp, and usually like to read his books in the daylight, surrounded by plants and away from clowns. The setting of Duma Key is in the Florida Keys, so you get to escape from winter to a tropical place, but only to be both terrified and delighted at King's storytelling ability that is surpassed by few. Pick up any of his novels to start with, but be prepared because they are usually lengthy, but always worth it.

Recommended for: Going old school with blanket forts and flashlights.
Not recommended for: Nighttime reading on the beach, unless you are really brave.

Journeys of a Lifetime: 500 of the World’s Greatest Trips by National Geographic

This compilation definitely falls under the category for coffee table or end table book, but is a wonderful escape at any time of the year, especially winter. I’ve gotten some great trip ideas from this book, and they range from driving Route 61 to taking a ride on the Trans-Siberian Railroad. Whatever part of you is an adventurer, big or small, National Geographic gives reliable and concise information on each section.

Recommended for: Those suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Not recommended for: Those who cannot lift over three pounds.

Style A to Zoe: The Art of Fashion, Beauty, & Everything Glamour by Rachel Zoe

While most of us cannot relate to being able to buy Chanel fur vests and couture gowns every week, stylist Rachel Zoe's book is a fun and useful read, especially if you are trying to revamp your look for 2011 and make use of those retail sales. And again, while most of us do not have the disposable income that she does, her insight and fashion sense can fit any budget, and in the end, make you feel fabulous.

Recommended for: The woman with a distinguished taste, or a gay man seeking to dress up his female friend.
Not recommended for: People who do not know who Rachel Zoe is.

The Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich

These books are just fun, simply put. Starting at One for the Money, Evanovich weaves a hilarious and charming story of bumbling Jersey tough girl Stephanie Plum, who is down on her luck and forced to work for her cousin Vinnie as a bounty hunter. Her antics bring laughter and a a fresh spin on the mystery crime novel. Evanovich puts out a new book roughly each year, and we are up to Finger Lickin' Fifteen, with Sizzlin' Sixteen slated to arrive June 2011. How’s that for some alliteration?

Recommended for: Mental refreshing and recharging of batteries.
Not recommended for: Jersey haters... or maybe you will gain a fondness for it, who knows.

Everyday Italian by Giada De Laurentiis

Though she has a newer cookbook out, Giada at Home, I think that this collection is the best. Giada, with her charming wit and slim frame, presents us with fashionable, and feasible, Italian food. Her recipes go above simple, but the directions are clear and you end up with some pretty great meals without burning down the kitchen. Chicken saltimbocca is one of my favorites, so you can finally find a use for that apron you got at Williams & Sonoma. Plus, you can probably develop a fun drinking game revolved around the number of times you see Giada show unnecessary cleavage.

Recommended for: Cooks at all levels
Not recommended for: Those who are still trying to make the Atkins diet work.

Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People by Amy Sedaris

Amy Sedaris shows much of the same wit and tongue-in-cheek humor of her brother, David Sedaris (read everything by him, that’s all I have to say), and while this book is not exactly the go-to guide for serious crafters, it’s an enjoyable look-through book with friends and family. I did exactly that with a dear friend on Christmas, and we loved seeing Amy’s various costumes and photo collage of satirical projects, ranging from sausage-making to sandpaper rugs.

Recommended for: Snow days and pick-me-ups from the winter blues
Not recommended for: Actual crafting.

The True and the Questions by Sabrina Ward Harrison

A fellow book lover, and one of my very best friends, sent me this diary/journal combination for Christmas. I bounce back and forth with being a dutiful journal writer. It’s like going to the gym: you know it’s good for you, and you feel better after doing it, but it’s so hard to find the motivation. Harrison presents the solution for the tentative journal writer as she includes excerpts from her own diary and gives the reader prompts and creative space to fill in as necessary. There’s nothing like starting a new year by carving out some time to etch out your thoughts, hopes, and worries. This particular read is geared toward a female audience, but I think the inspiration can go for both genders.

Recommended for: Beginning journal writers, or those who need some inspiration.
Not recommended for: Those who have several half-finished journals, work on those first!

Got a cold-weather read to recommend? Leave a comment!