10 arguments for the elimination of television

Or, why not give books this Christmas?

For the teens: a cool book about a cool movie. (See #9 below)

For the teens: a cool book about a cool movie. (See #9 below)

At some point during the holiday gift-buying frenzy (perhaps while circling round and round in search of a parking space in the ever-jammed Arden Fair mall parking lot), your rational mind may take over and catch upon a brilliant scheme. Yes, by God, there is a less wasteful, more thoughtful way to practice the art of giving this season! WHY NOT BUY BOOKS FOR EVERYONE ON YOUR LIST?! We at the SN&R root cheerfully for this intelligent gift-giving option and hereby offer a random selection of 10 just-released books (fiction, guides, non-fiction, classics) you might consider putting under the tree for mom, dad, brother, sister, spouse, friends, in-laws and crazy Uncle Louie.

1. The Salon.com Reader’s Guide to Contemporary Authors
by Laura Miller (editor), Adam Begley (contributor)

Here’s a book to buy the folks on your list who like their pop sensibility mixed (not stirred) with a little highbrow. As with the volume’s home site, Salon.com, this book is chatty and contains work by and about 225 of the most fascinating, prolific, eclectic writers of our time. Literary biggies such as Toni Morrison, Tobias Wolff, Kurt Vonnegut, Margaret Atwood and Alice Walker are presented side-by-side in this compendium with the all-out commercial guys, e.g. Stephen King, Tom Clancy and Michael Crichton. For each author, you get a biography, a bibliography, an article by Salon’s usually brilliant (but snotty) writers and, oftentimes, a “response” essay from the author in question. A great gift for the young at heart and/or mind.

2. Bhagavad Gita: A New Translation
by Stephen Mitchell

Widely known for his ability to make ancient works come to life for American readers, Stephen Mitchell (famous for his best-selling translation of the Tao Te Ching) now makes another one of the greatest spiritual books of all time available to everyone. The Bhagavad Gita (the book that Gandhi used as a handbook for life) is a long Sanskrit poem that sets forth spiritual guide points on the path to wisdom, freedom, happiness and individual enlightenment. Hint: the secret of life, translated into modern English, makes a wonderful gift for just about anybody.

3. Lives of the Monster Dogs
by Kirsten Bakis

As pet owners know, nothing comes closer to helping us understand our humanity than our relationship with animals. In Lives of the Monster Dogs, Kirsten Bakis takes us on a Mary Shelley-like ride through this heady turf, ultimately revealing the qualities that separate us from animals … and those that unite us with the animal we deny in ourselves. The strangely charming plot of Monster Dogs circles around a tragic race of dogs (genetically and biomechanically engineered by mad scientist August Rank to have human intelligence and use of the English language!) who take up lodging in New York City in the year 2000. The so-called Monster Dogs affect the costume and mannerisms of 19th-century Prussian nobility and have human-like hands and feet. Somehow, Bakis manages to make this bizarre stuff utterly plausible—the dogs earn our affection and, ultimately, our pity. Monster Dogs is an oddly wonderful read and an excellent gift for the “dog people” on your list.

4. King: The Photobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.
by Charles Johnson and Bob Adelman

This powerful “photobiography” chronicles King’s life in unprecedented depth through powerful black-and-white images chosen by Adelman and beautifully layered text by National Book Award-winning writer Charles Johnson. A tribute to the civil rights movement and the Power of One role played by its greatest leader, this book would be a welcome gift by almost anyone on your list.

5. Prodigal Summer
by Barbara Kingsolver

The author has returned from her (rather recent?) trip to the Congo (à la Poisonwood Bible) and now offers us Prodigal Summer, a three-way narrative story that features Deanna Wolfe, a reclusive wildlife biologist living in an isolated mountain cabin watching a den of coyotes that have recently migrated to the Appalachia region. The story has Deanna caught off-guard by a young hunter who causes her to question her assumptions about many things, including humankind and its impact on the ecosystem. As one character advises, “Everything alive is connected to every other by fine, invisible threads. Things you don’t see can help you plenty, and things you try to control will often rear back and bite you.” Amen.

6. Maestro: Greenspan’s Fed and the American Boom
by Bob Woodward

One astute reader-reviewer on Amazon.com advised that William Grieder’s Secrets of the Temple: How the Federal Reserve Runs the Country should be considered Old Testament on the subject of the Fed, while Woodward’s new book Maestro, about Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, should be seen as New Testament. The new book, Maestro, basically reveals the why and how of the economic boom of the last decades by telling Greenspan’s personal story. This book is “readable” and comes chock-o-block full of good Wall Street gossip: Did you know Greenspan started out a musician and that he was a Julliard-trained jazz saxophone player? (Yeah, but “he wasn’t a good improviser,” reports Woodward.) And did you know that Al proposed twice to wife TV news star Andrea Mitchell before she actually understood what the “verbally obscure” Greenspan was saying? Anyway, it’s somehow endearing to hear that the man upon whom the country depends (for its availability of money for business, consumer loans, mortgages, etc.) ultimately relies on “a pain in the pit of my stomach” to make his decisions.

7. Anything Goes: What I’ve Learned From Pundits, Politicians and Presidents
by Larry King

While we’re on the subject of books Dad might like (especially those Republican dads out there!), here’s a new autobiography from Larry King, host of CNN’s highest-rated news talk program. Unlike many of the talk-show media guys, King turns out to have guts, wit, intelligence and honest-to-god worldly wisdom. Best of all, he knows when to say, “I don’t know.” (He says it a lot!) As an added perk, this book also turns out to be a good chronicle of life and thought of this last decade, which, one has to admit, turned out to be a strangely entertaining period in American history.

8. Disobedience
by Jane Hamilton

Jane Hamilton’s fourth novel allows us a peek into the lives of the Shaws, a family that comes complete with philandering wife Beth, 17-year-old e-mail snoop Henry, tomboy sister (and Civil War re-enactor) Elvira and oblivious husband Kevin. As in A Map of the World, Hamilton invites the reader to watch, with horror and fascination, as the Shaw family slips steadily under the forces of the dark side of the modern world. Gift idea: Consider giving this book as part of a three-way “book swap” present, i.e. buy three books and give one to each of three people in your family with instructions to pass them around when completed.) For example, Disobedience would be great in a gift swap with Kingsolver’s newest (above) and Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin.

9. The Art of the Matrix
Edited by Spencer Lamm

A hip gift to buy for the precocious teenager on your list, The Art of the Matrix is the first and only book licensed by the creators of the coolest, most creative film of the decade. The volume is beautifully printed and contains the entire pre-production archive of art for The Matrix (including art for its famous “bullet-time” shots). It also contains the original (radical) script as well as commentary from the artists (including Keanu).

10. A Gesture Life
by Change Rae Lee

For those who lack the budget to buy pricey hardbacks, some just-released-as-paperback titles can also make great presents. A Gesture Life, the follow-up to Lee’s marvelous Native Speaker, is wonderfully written and already a book club favorite. Other good books newly out in paperback include: Strange Beauty: Murray Gell-Mann and the Revolution in Twentieth-Century Physics by George Johnson (an ultra-readable biography of the man who revolutionized modern particle physics); My Kitchen Wars by Betty Fussell (the cookbook author and his ex-wife recount “a lifetime’s worth of eating and cooking, showing how closely her meals were bound with her life"); Waiting by Ha Jin (a National Book Award winner about a Chinese man who is caught between his marriage, his love for another woman and centuries of custom); My Century by Gunter Grass (Germany’s Nobel Prize winner presents a historical and social portrait of the 20th century); and Gore Vidal by Fred Kaplan (the first true biography—actually authorized!—of one of the greatest leftist literary men of our century).