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Tyee Books

Tyee's Guide to Book Giving

Our best read on presents to give the readers on your list.

By  Tyee Staff and Contributors 14 Dec 2007 |

Contributors: Rob Annandale, Tom Barrett, David Beers, Charles Campbell, Geoff D'Auria, Crawford Kilian, Colleen Kimmett, Andrew MacLeod, Harvey McKinnon, Matt O'Grady, Monte Paulsen, Shannon Rupp and Tom Sandborn.

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A tome for just about anyone's tastes.

Outside of Oprah Winfrey and her little James Frey controversy, there's really nothing to be lost by endorsing a few books for those you like, love, or even loath (and on that front, may we suggest this year's The Invincible Quest: The Life of Richard Milhous Nixon, a 1,168-page doorstopper by fellow crook Conrad Black?). Books are the safest of Christmas gift-giving bets: everybody likes to read, right? Even if your special (or unspecial) someone doesn't really read, we've got you covered. This year's Tyee Christmas Book List -- our second-annual selection of worthy titles and possible recipients features everything from naughty picture books to pretty foodie tomes, as well as the much-touted How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read. You might want to keep that one for yourself.

For your hippie neighbour who likes to let it all hang out:

Wreck Beach by Carellin Brooks (Transmontanus). In one chapter of this book -- banned on B.C. Ferries -- Brooks describes self-appointed beach protector Judy Williams hitting a couple with a stick to stop them from having sex in full view of other sun seekers. Nude beaches are not about sex and sensuality, she stresses. Then she talks about the heavy cruising and rampant public sex going on at the beach's gay annex. Confused? It's a confusing place with a colourful cast of characters, and Brooks provides an able introduction to it all.

For the yuppie neighbour who spends more time on his shrubs than you do with your children:

Interwoven Wild: An Ecologist Loose in the Garden by Don Gayton (Thistledown Press). Ecologist Don Gayton is sort of like a less patronizing Stuart McLean for the gardening world, making all sorts of charmingly funny observations about people, plants and life. (Like the fact that cutesy Victorian greenhouses rarely have locked doors. Anyone can just walk right in and enjoy the mini-Eden. How innocent and lovely.) Essays so well written, even the chapter on moss is fascinating.

For your cousins in Herouxville:

Unlikely Utopia: The Surprising Triumph of Canadian Pluralism by Michael Adams (Penguin Canada). This will make you feel good about yourself and your neighbours, whatever their ethnic origins. Adams polled Canadians and found that we're a lot more cosmopolitan than we think. But Canadian Muslims don't like our weather any better than the rest of us. Who knew?

For your pension fund manager with stocks in one of Canada's transnational mining companies:

Extraction! Comix Reportage by David Widgington et al. (Cumulus Press). Four investigative journalists are teamed with four comic artists to tell, in a novel way, the story of Canadian mining activities in Guatemala, India, Alberta and Quebec. The tales are depressingly predictable, but interesting for the obvious parallels with each other. Time and again miners argue their extractions will benefit local communities and governments, but it's distant shareholders whose pockets get stuffed with all the best nuggets. They deserve coal in their stockings, but this book will do the trick.

For your armchair ecologist co-worker:

The Last Wild Wolves by Ian McAllister and Chris Darimont (Greystone). Complete with an engaging DVD of Twyla Roscovich's documentary of the same title, the book's photos and text take the wolves and other wildlife from the Great Bear Rainforest and show why wild places need to be protected on their own merits. Despite claims of victory from environmental groups negotiating with the province, 70 per cent of the area remains open for logging. Add in the looming threat of greater shipping traffic, offshore oil development and wind farms, and books like this will soon become the last reminder of the wonder that once was.

For your boss, who keeps comparing Israel to South Africa but hasn't been to either place:

Two Jewish Toronto writers deliver funny, smart memoirs of privilege and reckoning. Richard Poplak's Ja No Man (Penguin) recounts growing up in Jo'burg as television arrived and apartheid crumbled. Jonathan Garfinkle leaves cosy Kensington for occupied Palestine wanting to write a simple ode to settling differences, but ends up naming his book Ambivalence (Penguin).

For your jaded college-age kid who's "so over Sicko":

The ABCs of Disease Mongering by Alan Cassels (emdash). Health books with corporate villains can be so bitter, so health researcher Cassels provides a heaping spoonful of sugar to help the message go down. With rhymes by award-winning poet Alisa Gordaneer that are reminiscent of Hilaire Belloc's cautionary tales, and Goreyesque drawings by her artist brother Jeremy, the book is frighteningly funny. For those who doubt the "drug companies love [Ben], and his ADHD, because the bigger the brats, the more profit they'll see," there are nearly 40 pages of "fine print" to back up the verse.

For the other kid who needs to be scared into college, or away from journalism:

Wages by John Armstrong (New Star). The former punk rocker's sorry slide from rabbit shit shoveling into daily news reporting will make you laugh your ass off, guaranteed. Which is why The Tyee ran 14 excerpts.

For your rebellious teenage niece:

Stolen Angels: The Kidnapped Girls of Uganda by Kathy Cook (Penguin). Is your teen niece skipping classes, inhaling whatever, and generally raising hell in a boring environment of suburban wealth and privilege? Does she have no idea of the advantages she's pissing away? Give her the riveting tale of 30 girls, aged 11 to 16, in Uganda who were kidnapped in 1996 and used as sex-slaves in Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army of child soldiers. Much of the detail in this page-turner, by Ottawa-based journalist Kathy Cook, is drawn from survivor interviews that might just give your little Britney-wannabe some perspective.

For your sweet-toothed but foul-natured sister:

Bitter Chocolate: Investigating the Dark Side of the World's Most Seductive Sweet by Carol Off (Vintage Canada). Crack ruins the consumer; chocolate ruins the producer, probably a sharecropper in West Africa who keeps his costs down by using slave labour. Off's history of the chocolate industry and its titans -- Cadbury, Hershey, Mars -- reminds us of Balzac's saying, "Behind every great fortune is a crime."

For your salty great-great-uncle, the marine history buff:

Baychimo: Arctic Ghost Ship by Anthony Dalton (Heritage House). Seized from the Germans by the British after World War I, Baychimo was part of the Hudson's Bay Company's Arctic trading system in the 1920s. Abandoned in the ice off the Alaskan coast in 1931, she drifted around the Arctic Ocean for at least another 40 years. A vivid look at a vanished economy based in London, Vancouver, and the Beaufort Sea.

For your hawkish American brother-in-law:

Mirrors of the Unseen: Journeys in Iran by Jason Elliott (Picador). A Farsi-speaking Brit, Elliott has bumped across Iran in buses and taxis, paying special attention to Persian art and architecture. His descriptions of ancient mosques and palaces make it clear that bombing Iran would be a crime against humanity even if not a single person died.

For anyone doing well, or not, in the ballyhooed B.C. 'boom':

Boomsday by Christopher Buckley (Twelve). Buckley is a master satirist and this is his best book since the acclaimed Thank You for Smoking. His 29-year-old protagonist -- blogger and PR hack, Cassandra Devine -- takes on the boomer generation and there are many laugh-out-loud moments.

For that annoying know-it-all who never misses an opportunity to show off his detailed knowledge of arcane local trivia:

The West Beyond the West: A History of British Columbia by Jean Barman (University of Toronto Press). Barman's narrative history is renowned for looking beyond the stories of famous men and illuminating the roles that women, immigrants and Aboriginals played in opening up the province. The third edition of the seminal narrative adds a new chapter entitled, "The Challenges of Leadership, 1972-2006," which documents B.C.'s awkward evolution beyond a resource economy. A factoid to toss out at your next cocktail party: Fewer than 5 per cent of the total workforce in 1994, and just more than 3 per cent in 2003, were employed in forestry, mining, fishing, trapping and agriculture -- combined.

For your diehard Tory dad who longs for the "good old days":

John A.: The Man Who Made Us by Richard Gwyn (Random House). The first of two volumes on our first prime minister, John A. documents how Macdonald leveraged a steady flow of patronage in order to create Canada's first true national party. The selection of Ottawa as a capital, for example, was one of many Macdonald moves that was orchestrated so that the public would believe it was authored by another -- in this case, the Queen herself -- while John A. plotted his famous "double shuffle" to return his party to power after the backlash.

For Chicago School shills (and those who love them):

The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein (Knopf Canada). Klein proposes a new theory of late capitalism in the neo-conservative era, and suggests that Milton Friedman -- the intellectual godfather of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Augusto Pinochet, among others -- has much to answer for. From the torture chambers of Chile to the debacles of Iraq and Katrina, Klein details how Friedman's work -- as an academic and consultant -- was used to rationalize regimes of economic clear-cutting in the wake of disasters, both natural and man-made. Jonathan Chait's thesis in The Big Con: The True Story of How Washington Got Hoodwinked and Hijacked by Crackpot Economics (Houghton Mifflin) is slightly less ambitious -- blaming trickle-down economics, and Dubya's obsession with tax cuts, with mere economic ruin.

For the lover who likes to play scullery maid, stableboy:

Conceit by Mary Novik (Doubleday Canada). In twisted, tawdry London, England, circa 1666, pre-teen Pegge Donne is already almost past her prime. With her preacher father making clandestine, ungodly night visits to his wife's grave, he barely has time to arrange a marriage for her. Rebellious young Pegge must do it herself. Seduce her sister's suitor, perhaps? Dad's best friend?

For any writer who's Wilde at heart:

Topic Sentence: A Writer's Education by Stan Persky (New Star Books). Topic Sentence is a remarkable re-working of the classic "new and collected writings" genre. Persky, one of Canada's most prolific and provocative public intellectuals, is busy here tracing his development as a writer -- dating back to the title piece, from 1970. The long essay on Oscar Wilde is in itself worth the price of admission, with its tender but unsparing reflections on the heartbreaks associated with a bad boyfriend and its lucid analysis of the current state of gay liberation politics in the era Persky calls "post gay."

For the aging roué on your list:

Exit Ghost by Philip Roth (Viking Canada). A book about failing powers and forgetfulness, Exit Ghost traces the final adventures of Roth's perennial protagonist Nathan Zuckerman as he confronts mortality, impotence and incontinence in the wake of prostate surgery. True to theme, early passages feature some of the most flaccid sentences Roth's ever published -- but minor Roth is still better than the first rate work of most American novelists, and this book remains a work of imaginative (if uneven) genius.

For the West Coaster who wonders what's so great about the Great Lakes:

The Great Lakes: The Natural History of a Changing Region by Wayne Grady (Greystone Books). A beautifully designed, comprehensive gem of a guide to the ecosystem at the heart of Canada.

For your friend who thinks that all the world's a stage:

Theatre for Living by David Diamond (Trafford). Diamond, who has been creating activist theatre in Vancouver for decades, writes about the evolution of his approach to playmaking -- from studies with Brazilian theatre pioneer Augusto Boal to his latest work, which lets communities create and alter their own stories on responding to the environmental crisis. Sounds a bit earnest, but the book, like Diamond's work with Vancouver's Headlines Theatre, is lively and challenging -- especially his quarrel with left-wing orthodoxies about the nature of oppression and the oppressor.

For the old roommate you still party with, but would never live with again:

Dirtbags by Teresa McWhirter (Anvil Press). Spider escapes her small Interior town after a bad accident to live with a bingo-addicted aunt in Vancouver. The fictional fun begins when she moves in with two gals who show her what the city has to offer: hot musicians, parties with free drugs and cheap pitchers at the Cam...I mean, CC Saloon. When a hangover and the cold winter rain keep you in, snuggle up with Dirtbags.

For the fortune seeker who may be 120 years late:

The Trail of 1858: British Columbia's Gold Rush Past by Mark Forsythe and Greg Dickson (Harbour Publishing). Two CBC vets gather a wealth of stories from days when B.C. riches were made by panning gravel instead of flipping condos. At stake? For one thing, whether we ended up Canadians or Yanks.

For those who think that being "down in the dumps" is a good thing:

Trading in Memories: Travels Through a Scavenger's Favorite Places by Barbara Hodgson (Greystone Books). Vancouver book designer and writer Barbara Hodgson has produced some amazing works, including what has to be the most sumptuous book ever on opium. In Trading in Memories, she takes us on a tour of the world's flea markets, where she finds both inspiration and the materials she uses in her illustrations. This book is a treasury of bric-a-brac: cigarette boxes, a hairy snake in a jar, and a map of Damascus that dates to 1200 but is still "surprisingly useful."

For someone who thinks it's getting hot in here:

Hot Air: Meeting Canada's Climate Change Challenge by Jeffrey Simpson, Mark Jaccard and Nic Rivers (McClelland & Stewart). If you think the weather outside is frightful now, just wait until global average temperatures jump above two degrees. In this sometimes dry but nonetheless vital book, Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson, SFU economist Mark Jaccard and researcher Nic Rivers show how Canada's politicians have made a mess of the climate change issue so far -- and, hopefully, how it's not too late to fix the problem.

For that hard-to-shop-for fan of graphic-novel memoirs about once-famous Chinese acrobat/magicians who taught Orson Welles about showbiz and were once the toast of vaudeville but today are unjustly forgotten, as told by the acrobat/magician's great-granddaughter, a Vancouver filmmaker who discovered a lot about herself and her family as she researched this fascinating story:

The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam: An Illustrated Memoir by Ann Marie Fleming (Riverhead/Penguin).

For your friend who thinks she's smarter than the rest of us (and can produce the equation that proves it):

Super Crunchers: Why Thinking-by-Numbers Is the New Way to Be Smart by Ian Ayres (Bantam). Ayers demonstrates convincingly that expertise and intuition are often wrong, and that data-driven decisions are best -- for social policy, healthcare and business. Well written (think Freakonomics), it will not bore the data-averse crowd thanks to a good dose of humour and great stories.

For the artist serf who believes The Tyee ruthlessly exploits the creative class:

The Cult of the Amateur by Andrew Keen (Doubleday). Subtitled How Today's Internet Is Killing Our Culture, this book by a dot com insider deftly skewers the pretensions and hype regarding the latest greatest thing since sliced bread. The book asks whether the Internet financially rewards people who have the talent and take the time to produce content of the highest quality and value. It's polemical, provocative, selective, often wrong, and highly entertaining.

For the lover (at a distance) of B.C.'s iconic Tyee-eating monster:

Operation Orca by Daniel Francis and Gil Hewlett (Harbour). One of B.C.'s preeminent popular historians and a veteran marine scientist team up to look at the nature and plight of B.C.'s diminishing Orca populations, and the transformation of public attitudes. In 1964, when the Vancouver Aquarium captured its first whale, Moby Doll, with a harpoon, scientists didn't know what to feed it. (Big old salmon, of course.) Forty years later, the sagas of orphaned whales Springer and Luna became media obsessions, and our affection for these whales threatens to smother them with whale watchers.

For foodies with a hunger to travel:

Pacific Northwest Wining and Dining by Braiden Rex-Johnson / photography by Jackie Johnson (John Wiley & Sons). The best food is often found at off-the-beaten-path places loaded with charm and local ingredients -- and there are, of course, plenty such places right here in our own backyard. Part cookbook, part travel guide, Pacific Northwest Wining and Dining is filled with recipes and beautiful photographs of this region's standout vineyards, farms and bistros.

For the traveler seeking poetic license:

Letters from America: Travels in the USA and Canada by Rupert Brooke (Hesperus Press). The late British poet -- known for the war sonnets he wrote during the First World War -- sent home this collection of impressions during a yearlong trip to Canada and the U.S., in 1913-14. First published in the Westminster Gazette in 1916, the letters are vivid, provocative and full of dry wit ("Montreal," wrote Brooke, "consists of banks and churches. The people of this city spend much of their time in laying up their riches in this world or the next.")

For your queer friend who likes the big picture:

Comin' at Ya!: The Homoerotic 3-D Photographs of Denny Denfield by David L. Chapman and Thomas Waugh (Arsenal Pulp Press). A collection of 3-D colour photos of naked men shot from every possible angle and in various stages of excitement, Comin' at Ya! does away with the myth that the 1950s were boring. The enclosed glasses merge the dual pictures for maximum effect. This one should probably be stored somewhere the kiddies and Grandma can't reach.

For your queer friend who prefers big thoughts:

First Person Queer: Who We Are (So Far) edited by Richard Labonté and Lawrence Schimel (Arsenal Pulp Press). As the title suggests, first-person essays covering the rainbow of queer experience (gay/lesbian/bisexual/trans) -- from coming out, to passing as straight, to growing old and living proud. Contributors include B.C. queer lit icons Ivan E. Coyote, Daniel Gawthrop and Stan Persky, with a mixture of new and reprinted material (including a piece by trans writer Kate Bornstein about confronting her former identity at her mother's funeral, which first appeared in the New York Times Magazine in 1998).

For the paranoid aunt who's convinced "the world is full of crooks and thieves":

The Canadian Guide to Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft and Other Fraud by Graham McWaters and Gary Ford (Insomniac Press). Providing the lowdown on Nigerian 419 spam e-mail, Ponzi schemes and faith-based investment scams, this book may have you unplugging your computer and doing all your transactions with cash.

For the paranoid uncle who thinks "foreign aid is a Ponzi scheme":

Exporting Good Governance: Temptations and Challenges in Canada's Aid Program edited by Jennifer Welsh and Ngaire Woods (Wilfred Laurier University Press). This book's central question -- can good governance be exported? -- may leave some wondering if one can share what one does not have. Charting the history of this country's aid priorities and providing case studies of the resulting policies -- in places like Ghana and Afghanistan -- the contributors no doubt hope to foster dialogue before the federal government finishes "reinventing" the Canadian International Development Agency.

For the Canadian Lit major cramming for final exams:

The Anansi Reader: Forty Years of Very Good Books edited by Lynn Coady (House of Anansi Press). Started by poet Dennis Lee and novelist David Godfrey in 1967, House of Anansi has since become the gold standard for boutique Canadian publishers, with a stable of writers that's included everyone from Margaret Atwood to Northrop Frye to Sheila Heti. The eclectic mix of excerpted fiction, poetry and non-fiction is curated by former Left Coaster, now Torontonian, Lynn Coady.

For the most ex-Asper-ated person you know:

Asper Nation: Canada's Most Dangerous Media Company by Marc Edge. (New Star). Maybe someone in your circle is among the staff being shed by CanWest? They'll have more time for reading this tome that gets the goods on Canada's mega-media barons (excerpted in The Tyee).

For all those who cook with love:

Cooking for Two by James Barber (Harbour Publishing). "Cooking, like sex and dancing, is a pleasure best shared" are this book's first words and, unfortunately, some of James Barber's last. It's a simple cookbook with quick recipes (few are longer than half a page) each written so that two people can share the tasks. "'Let's cook supper' will do a lot more for your relatinship than 'I'm cooking. Leave me alone,'" wrote Barber. The man will be missed. But his books remain.

For the Tyee writer who needs to make suggestions for a Christmas book list but doesn't really like to read:

How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read by Pierre Bayard (Bloomsbury/Raincoast). We're not going to even pretend we read this book by Pierre Baynard, a French literature professor and psychoanalyst. We skimmed the contents page and discovered the book describes, apparently in some detail, the various ways of "Not Reading" (Books You Don't Know, Books You've Skimmed, Books You've Heard Of, Books You Have Forgotten), as well as the literary confrontations you might encounter (based on the books you haven't read) and how you should thus behave. Leah McLaren endorses this book on the dust jacket and, well, that's enough for us.