One-Minute Book Reviews

December 6, 2007

Gift Books for Leaders, Managers, Executives and Others Who Want to Succeed in Business

The books in the “Harvard Business Review On …” series include authoritative articles on topics from “Managing Yourself” and “Motivating People” to “Green Business Strategy”

Harvard Business Review on Change: Ideas With Impact Series. By John P. Kotter, James C. Collins and Jerry Porras, Jeanie Daniel Duck, Tracy Goss, Richard Pascale, and Anthony Athos, Roger Martin, Paul Strebel, Norman R. Augustine, and Robert H. Schaffer and Harvey A. Thomson. Harvard Business School Press, 228 pp., $19.95, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

Is the phrase “business books” an oxymoron? So many titles in the category read like Power Point presentations in hardcover or exercises in spin control by ousted chief executives who are trying to recast their legacies.

Not the more than 50 paperbacks in the “Harvard Business Review On …” series, each of which includes reprints from the magazine on a theme such as “Leadership,” “Managing Yourself,” or “Motivating People.” I picked up the Harvard Business Review on Change at an airport Borders, looking for an alternative to The Almost Moon, which I’d packed in my carry-on bag in the irrational belief that a novel about a woman who kills her mother and stuffs her in a freezer might improve with altitude. It was perfect.

This installment in the series collects eight articles published between 1992 and 1997 on why change succeeds or fails in organizations, and most of the essays have as much to say today as they did ten years ago. Robert Schaffer and Harvey Thomson argue in “Successful Change Programs Begin With Results” that sirens like total quality management lure corporations onto the rocks because they are “activitiy-centered” rather than “results-driven.” Other articles explore the failures of rightsizing, reeingineering and cultural change. The best is John Kotter’s “Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail,” which argues persuasively that organizational change fails for eight reasons from not creating a great enough sense of urgency at the outset to declaring victory too soon.

“The most general lesson to be learned from the more successful cases is that the change process goes through a series of phases that, in total, usually require a considerable length of time,” writes Kotter, a professor at Harvard Business School. “Skipping steps creates only the illusion of speed and never produces a satisfying result. A second very general lesson is that critical mistakes in any of the phases can have a devastating impact, slowing momentum and negating hard-won gains.”

The authors of these essays draw most of their examples from major corporations. But their advice would also apply to or could be adapted for many smaller entrepreneurial ventures or departments or even for individuals wondering why they never keep their New Year’s resolutions. And because the series covers such a wide range of topics, you could probably find one for anyone on your gift list who is facing a challenge in business. How many of us wouldn’t benefit from being reminded at times of a remark by the novelist Rita Mae Brown, quoted in one essay, that “insanity is doing the same thing again and again but expecting different results”?

Best line: Former Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine in “Reshaping an Industry: Lockheed Martin’s Survival Story”: “Financial wizard Warren Buffet once cautioned, ‘Beware of past performance ‘proofs’ in finance. If history books were they key to riches, the Forbes 400 would consist of librarians.’”

Worst line: A chart on page 194 listing the differences between “results-driven” and “activity-centered programs” appears to have the qualities of each program reversed.

Published: 1998

Furthermore: The titles in the “Harvard Business Review on …” series include books the follwing topics: Leadership, Marketing, Managing Projects, Managing Yourself, Motivating People, Effective Communication, Teams That Succeed, Women in Business, and the new Green Business Strategy. A complete list of titles appears on the Harvard Business School Press site www.hbsp.harvard.edu. Harvard Business School Publishing also has an IdeaCast series, a free podcast from “leading thinkers in management” at www.hbrideacast.org.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

November 29, 2007

Raise the Drawbridge and Lower the Portcullis! It’s David Macaulay’s Captivating ‘Castle’

A Caldecott Honor Book about the making of a medieval castle in Wales still appeals to children three decades after its publication

By Janice Harayda

This afternoon I found myself in the children’s section of our library with an 8-year-old friend whose mother had agreed to let me to pick out a book for him while she visited the adult stacks. The book I thought Cory might like wasn’t on the shelves. But David Macaulay’s wonderful picture books about the making of large structures – Cathedral, Pyramid, Castle and the new Mosque – stood near its spot.

Cory loves to read – especially The Invention of Hugo Cabret – but hadn’t seen these treasures, which helped to win a MacArthur grant for their creator. So I pulled a few of Macaulay’s books off the shelves and handed them to him. Cory gravitated right away to a picture of how a drawbridge works in Castle (Houghton Mifflin, 74 pages, $9.95 paperback, ages 7 and up), a Caldecott Honor Book about the construction of a medieval castle in Wales.

So I returned him to his mother with three of Macaulay’s books and checked back later. Cory was still poring over Castle – specifically, a picture of soldiers who seemed to be underground. I wondered if they were digging a moat. But Cory pointed to a witty drawing of several of their comrades, who were to trying to reach the ramparts. He explained that if “the enemy” couldn’t scale the castle walls, they tried to tunnel their way in. This he had just learned from the book.

I don’t know if every child reacts this way to Macaulay, a superstar in the field. But by now millions must have been captivated by his intelligent texts and intricate and amusing black-and-white cross-hatched drawings. And Castle, first published in 1977, makes an especially good introduction to his work, because it feeds interests kindled in children by fairy and folk tapes. Houghton Mifflin recommends it for 10-to-14-year-olds, but I’d give it to 7-to-9-year-olds and let them grow into it if they’re not quite ready. The pictures will draw in the younger children even if some words are unfamiliar. Just ask Cory.

Links: www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Macaulay and www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com

Increased library use helps libraries justify requests for increased funding. It also helps to keep libraries open. Please support public libraries by using them regularly.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

November 27, 2007

Carol Saline and Sharon Wohlmuth’s ‘Sisters,’ a Holiday Gift for Women Who Think That Having a Sister Is ‘Like a Marriage Without the Sex’

Sisters of many ages talk about what they give to and get from each other

By Janice Harayda

“It’s like a marriage without the sex,” the folksinger Anna McGarrigle says of her relationship with her sisters, Kate and Jane. If you know a woman who has similar feelings, your search for an ideal holiday gift book might begin with Sisters: The Tenth Anniversary Edition (Running Press, 164 pp., $29.95) www.sistersbook.com.

Since 1994 more than a million people have bought this attractive coffee-table book that has 36 brief essays by the award-winning journalist Carol Saline www.carolsaline.com and wonderful black-and-white photos by Sharon J. Wohlmuth, who shared a Pulitzer Prize at the Philadelphia Inquirer. What accounts for its staying power? In part, an inspired mix of sisters – pairs, trios and a quintet — who talk about their relationship. Some are celebrities — Chris Evert, Melba Moore, Gail Sheehy, Dixie Carter, Barbara Mandrell, Christy Turlington, Coretta Scott King, Wendy Wasserstein. But the most memorable essays involve women unlikely to appear in “Got Milk?” ads – a Vietnamese refugee, a pair of nuns, a trio of police officers, and a 7-year-old girl who tries to comfort an 11-year-old sister with AIDS.

The tone of Sisters is warm but not cloying. And Wolmuth’s photos often have a low-keyed wit, as in a picture of three sisters in their 80s who relax at a pool in what appears to be a Miami retirement complex. One member of the trio, in a Betty Ford hairdo, stands in chest-high water and lights a cigarette. What are ashes in the pool, the picture seems to ask, when you’ve got love like this?

Caveat lector: This review was based in the first edition. The 10th anniversary edition has some new material, including updates on sisters in the first edtion.

Furthermore: The authors also wrote Best Friends and . Mothers & Daughters, which have a similar format.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

November 5, 2007

A Closer Look at a Florentine Treasure, Ghiberti’s Glorious Baptistery Doors — In a New Book and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Filed under: Art,Coffee Table Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:43 pm
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A great exhibit comes with a handsome companion volume

By Janice Harayda

On, joy and rapture unforeseen! On Saturday I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the new show of bronze reliefs from the doors for the Baptistery of San Giovanni in Florence, created by Lorenzo Ghiberti over a 27-year period in the mid-15th century. And when I’m counting my cultural blessings for the year, I can stop right there with a profit.

The exhibit displays only 3 of the 10 bronze reliefs from the doors that depict Old Testament scenes, a jewel of the Renaissance. But the show is so rich — in beauty and interpretation — that it might change your view of one or two of the subjects of the reliefs: Adam and Eve, Jacob and Esau, and David and Goliath. Did you remember that David beheaded Goliath after he smote him with his slingshot? You’re unlike to forget it if you view the panel about them. The New York Times‘s critic was right when she said in a recent review that this show almost makes you feel sorry for Goliath.

One of the remarkable aspects of the exhibit is that Ghiberti’s craftsmanship is so precise, you can see the use of high, middle and low relief in the same panel — a technique I haven’t seen shown as clearly anywhere else. You may be able to get a sense of this if you enlarge the book cover at right, which shows a detail from the Adam and Eve panel. At the bottom center you see God (looking like many artistic representations of Jesus) creating Eve from Adam’s rib in middle relief. At the top center you see another image of God — in a hat, looking down on Creation — surrounded by angels in low relief. Another scene in the Adam and Eve panel, which you can’t see, shows God in high relief.

I couldn’t afford the handsome companion volume to the show that the Met was selling, The Gates of Paradise: Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Renaissance Masterpiece/High Museum of Art Series (Yale University Press, 184 pp., $45) www.yale.edu/yup/, edited by Gary M. Radke, a professor of humanities at Syracuse University. But this is a book to check out at your local bookstore or an online retailer if your holiday gift list includes a lover of art, architecture, Italy or the Renaissance. Better still, go to the Met www.metmuseum.org and take a look at the book after you’ve seen the show, also called “The Gates of Paradise.” You have until January 13.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

October 26, 2007

Steve Martin and Roz Chast Make Fun of Religious, Cultural and Physical Differences in a New Alphabet Book for Preschoolers — Is Your Two-Year-Old Ready for Ethnic Humor?

Maybe they should have called it “S” Is for Sucker

The Alphabet From A to Y: With Bonus Letter Z! Words by Steve Martin. Pictures by Roz Chast. Doubleday/Flying Dolphin, 64 pp., $17.95. Suggested ages: “Young Children” (Doubleday), “Baby/Preschool” (Powell’s), 9-to-12 (Amazon).

By Janice Harayda

Hey, kids! You’re never too young to laugh at people who are different from you! And if you’re an adult who wants to help, Steve Martin and Roz Chast are there for you! They use rhyming couplets to show 2-to-4-year-olds – the usual audience for alphabet books — just how easy it is to make fun of religious, cultural and physical differences!

Looking for the perfect Hannukah gift for a toddler? How about a book that explains the letter “K” by showing an ape-like woman (“King Kong’s aunt Frances”) saying, “Kids! Kome Back! Have Some Kosher Kasha!” Or need something to wrap up for Diwali? Why not a book that shows a funny-looking guy in a turban staring at a woman “indecent in her undies”? Those 2-year-olds have to learn about perverts sometime! And what could be better for kids celebrating the Day of the Dead than a book that introduces the letter “I” with a poster of “The Incans”? (Will those kids ever be surprised to learn that the plural of “Inca” is “Incans” and not “Inca” or “Incas”!) Martin and Chast even show how simple it can be to make fun of disabilities! And nuns! The “H” page says: “Henrietta the hare wore a habit in heaven, / Her hairdo hid hunchbacks: one hundred and seven.” And Martin and Chast aren’t talking about Quasimodo but people who look just like your Uncle Ed except with disabilities! Yes, they could easily have said “halfbacks” instead of “hunchbacks”! But they must have decided that people with disabilities are funnier than athletes!

Sure, you might see all of this as tasteless — not to mention, a little mature for kids who may be poring over Once Upon a Potty. So why didn’t the people at Doubleday pitch this book to the group who would enjoy it most, the adult fans of Chast’s New Yorker cartoons? Could it be that they figured out that they could make more money by selling it as a children’s book? Maybe they should have called it “S” Is for Sucker.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

June 25, 2007

Rudolf Nureyev (and Others) Slept Here: Derry Moore’s ‘Rooms’

The 12th Earl of Drogheda visits the homes of aristocrats and others in Paris, London, Madrid, Vienna and elsewhere

Rooms. Photographs by Derry Moore. Text by Carl Skoggard. Editor: Joseph Holtzman. Rizzoli/Nest Books, 263 pp., $60.

By Janice Harayda

Books about interior design typically show rooms with character. Derry Moore’s Rooms shows rooms with characters.

Rudolf Nurevey, Lady Diana Cooper, the Rev. Peter Gomes, the Duchesses of Devonshire and de Mouchy — all are among the aristocrats of birth or achievement whom the 12th Earl of Drogheda has photographed over three decades. Moore aims to capture, not romanticize, his subjects. So he looks beyond Nureyev’s deep cooper bathtub and the Sargent portrait of the granddaughters of an earlier Duchess of Devonshire that hangs in the Blue Drawing Room at Chatsworth. He offers glimpses of faded paint, threadbare silk, buckled wallpaper, tilted lampshades and a roll of toilet paper.

In that sense his book has something of the twilight-of-the-gods air of Andrew Bush’s great Bonnettstown. Rooms also has a bracing and opinionated text by Carl Skoggard, who situates good design – as Jane Austen did – in the context of morality. “Here, you will find no effort to intimidate by means of a display of grandeur (or false grandeur),” Skoggard writes of the château Le Fresne, near Tours. “Nothing overawes through its size.” You could say that “Le Fresne and its unforced elegance express the unfeigned goodness of dispositions naturally moral.” This may be a reach. But Skoggard’s writing has much more life than the sycophantic prose of most design magazines. Like Moore’s haunting photographs, his text usually is, as the introduction notes, “impractical in the best sense of that much maligned word.”

Best line: Prince Tassilo von Fürstenberg’s former hunting bristles with so much taxidermy that Skoggard wonders if an Austro-Hungarian decorator tricked it up “with suitable remains”: “Recall Vladimir Putin’s astonishment when he suggested to his friend George Bush that the two of them saddle up for a ride around the ranch, only to be told that his host could not ride a horse at all.” This is one example of Skoggard’s refreshing willingness to confront a truth rarely acknowledged in books about interior design: Décor is always, in part, a commentary on politics.

Worst line (tie); The chapter on the gardens of Powis Castle in Wales is written, preciously, from the point of view of its yew trees. And Skoggard’s usual good taste fails him in his justification of opulence of Indian rajas and maharajas: “Where poverty is widely shared and there is no shame in being poor, ostentation on part of the well-off few becomes public entertainment, a benefaction shared by all, legitimation of things as they happen to be.” Exactly how did the poor “share” in the opulence when, as the Wall Street Journal said in its June 23–24 edition, the “untouchables” (now known Dalits) “were barred from temples used by upper-caste Hindus and from upper-caste homes”? Did they “share” it the way the homeless in Manhattan share Donald Trump’s wealth by gazing at Trump Tower?

Recommendation? This book could be a great gift for an architect, interior designer or traveler who loves visiting stately homes like Chatsworth.

Consider reading also: Andrew Bush’s Bonnettstown: A House in Ireland (Abrams, 1989), a remarkable portrait of three elderly aristocrats during their final days in their decaying 18th century Georgian manor house in Ireland.

Published: November 2006 www.derrymoore.com.

Furthermore: The New York Times ran a good article on Moore, “Insider’s View of Society’s Vanishing Rooms,” on Nov. 23, 2006. [I can't get a direct link to work, but you can find it easily by Googling "new york times" and "derry moore."]

 

 

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

December 1, 2006

A PRINT-AND-SAVE HOLIDAY GIFT BOOK GUIDE … FOR EVERYONE ON YOUR LIST FROM A-TO-Z

Filed under: A-to-Z Gift List 2006 — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:24 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

Looking for a gift for that hard-to-buy-for football fan, lesbian mother, or book club member? Here are some of the best of the season’s readings.

By Janice Harayda

Looking for a gift book? Here are ideas for everyone on your list from A-to-Z. You can read a full review of most books on the list below by entering their titles in the Search box One-Minute Book Reviews www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com. Most came out in 2006 and are widely available bookstores. Older books are available from online retailers.

What to give to …

AN ATTORNEY Anonymous Lawyer (Holt, $25) is a dark and satirical novel in the form of a blog that sends up the politics of a ruthless high-powered law firm. It grew out of Jeremy Blachman’s popular blog www.anonymouslawyer.blogspot.com and has a plot that’s thin enough to read during the bathroom breaks of a long deposition. But how much time does that young law firm associate on your list have for reading, anyway? Lawyers who prefer more substantial books, or nonfiction, may enjoy Manhunt (see under History Buff below).

A BOOK CLUB MEMBER Does someone on your list keep complaining about the books selected by her book club? A bookseller can show you guides full of ideas for reading groups. But many reading-group guides do little more than cheerlead for popular titles. Discerning readers may prefer two older books: John Carey’s Pure Pleasure: A Guide to the 20th Century’s Most Enjoyable Books (Faber and Faber, $14, paperback), a collection of 800-word reviews from the Sunday Times of London, and Noel Perrin’s A Reader’s Delight (Dartmouth, $20, paperback), which gathers brief reviews of classic fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from the Washington Post.

A COSMETIC SURGERY VETERAN You have to be a bit careful about who gets Alex Kuczynki’s Beauty Junkies: Inside Our $15 Billion Obsession With Cosmetic Surgery (Doubleday, $24.95), because you would never want to appear to suggest that the recipient needs plastic surgery. But it’s a terrific book for, among others, veterans of the knife and syringe. Have you heard about the Detroit radio station that gave away free plastic surgery during a promotion with the theme “New Year, New Rear”? www.alexkuczynski.com

A DOG LOVER John Grogan wrote one of funniest memoirs of 2005 in Marley and Me: Life and Love With the World’s Worst Dog (Morrow, $21.95), recently published in a handsome gift edition. The title hardly exaggerates the exploits of a yellow Lab that, though endearing, was so rebellious that it was expelled from obedience school. Anyone who loved Marley and Me is also likely to enjoy the similarly appealing books by Jon Katz, especially A Dog Year: Twelve Months, Four Dogs, and Me (Random House, $12.95, paperback). www.marleyandme.com

AN EX Still speaking to your ex? Show that you have no hard feelings (okay, only a few) by picking up Leanne Shapton’s Was She Pretty? (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $20), a quirky coffee-table book of captioned line drawings that describe the offbeat ways men and women remember their former lovers.

A FOOTBALL FAN Hallelujah. After a decade out of print, Jerry Kramer’s Instant Replay: The Green Bay Diary of Jerry Kramer (Doubleday, $21.95) is back in an edition with a foreword by Jonathan Yardley, the Pulitzer Prize–winning book critic. Give this book right now – before it goes out of print again – to any football fan young to have missed it when it first came out in 1968. Kramer, an All-Pro Green Bay guard, wrote this modern classic with the late Dick Schaap, one of the best sportswriters of the 20th century. www.jerrykramer.com

A GRIEVING WIDOW The holidays are often no holiday when you’ve recently lost someone you love. Four 9/11 widows tell how they coped in Love You, Mean It: A True Story of Love, Loss, And Friendship (Hyperion, $23.95), by Patricia Carrington, Julia Collins, Claudia Gerbasi, and Ann Haynes with Eve Charles. This book may especially help a widow who is coping with a sudden death that didn’t give her time to prepare emotionally for the loss. www.loveyoumeanit.com

A HISTORY BUFF Why did John Wilkes Booth really kill Abraham Lincoln? And why did it take the government more than a week to capture him after he fled from Ford’s Theatre after shooing the president? Lawyer and Lincoln scholar James L. Swanson offers answers in Manhunt: The Twelve-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer (Morrow, $26.95), one of the year’s best historical true crime stories. www.jameslswanson.com

AN ISRAELI AT HEART Have a friend who visits Israel often and dreams of living there? The Man Who Fell Into a Puddle: Israel Lives (Vintage, $13, paperback) is a poignant collection of profiles of immigrants that shows a side of the country rarely seen in news reports of war in Middle East. Author Igal Sarna, a tank commander in the Yom Kippur War and one of Israel’s leading journalists, writes with a high style somewhat reminiscent of Joan Didion’s.

A JANEITE Devout Jane Austen fans call themselves “Janeites.” But you don’t have to fall into that group to enjoy Josephine Ross’s Jane Austen’s Guide to Good Manners: Compliments, Charades & Horrible Blunders (Bloomsbury, $14.95), with charming watercolor illustrations by Henrietta Webb. Ross doesn’t try to extrapolate a set of 21st-century rules from the behavior of Elizabeth Bennet and others. Instead she offers a literary companion, masquerading as a Regency-era etiquette book, that explains the complex codes of behavior followed by Austen’s characters.

KINDERGARTENER Mother Goose characters write letters to each other in Allan and Janet Ahlberg’s The Jolly Postman: Or Other People’s Letters (Little, Brown, $19.99, ages 4-8), which has a real letter tucked into in an envelope on every other page. This British import has been delighting children for two decades and recently appeared in a 20th anniversary edition. All books in the “Jolly Postman” series are popular gifts partly because children often can’t get them at libraries, which have trouble keeping them on shelves — the letters keep disappearing from their pockets.

A LESBIAN MOTHER Harley Aizley tells how she and her partner had a child using sperm they ordered by mail in her wisecracking memoir, Buying Dad: One Woman’s Search for the Perfect Sperm Donor (Alyson, $14.95, paperback). Aizley also wrote Confessions of the Other Mother: Nonbiological Lesbian Moms Tell All (Beacon, 2006), a collection of personal stories by lesbian mothers. www.harlynaizley.com

A MOVIEGOER Two of Hollywood’s top casting directors tell how they matched stars like Julia Roberts and Tom Cruise with roles in A Star Is Found: Our Adventures Casting Some of Hollywood’s Biggest Movies (Harcourt, $25), written by Janet Hirshenson and Jane Jenkins with Rachel Kranz. www.janeandjanet.com

A NEW YORK WOMAN Long before Bridget Jones stepped on a scale, Sheila Levine embodied a certain kind of New York woman – smart, funny, overweight, and desperate to get married. So it was good news when, a couple of years ago, a publisher reissued Gail Parent’s blistering 1972 satire of mating rituals in pre-Sex and the City New York. Sheila Levine Is Dead and Living in New York (Overlook, $13.95, paperback). A good gift for fans of Bridget Jones’s Diary, whether they live in Manhattan or Kenosha.

AN ONLINE DATER Judsen Culbreth suggests ways that female baby boomers can find love on the Internet in The Boomers’ Guide to Online Dating: Date With Dignity (Rodale, $12.95, paperback). She should know: At the age of 52, she married a man she met through an online matchmaking service. www.judsenculbreth.com

A POET Newspaper editor David Tucker’s writes about his work and makes it work in Late for Work (Mariner, $12, paperback), an award winning collection of poetry with a foreword by Philip Levine. Not all the poems deal with newsrooms or deadlines. But like a good newspaper story, all have solid roots in the details of everyday life.

A RECENTLY ENGAGED FRIEND Philip Delamore’s The Perfect Wedding Dress (Firefly, $35) wouldn’t work for a bride-to-be who’s bought her dress. But this coffee-table book could delight someone who hasn’t been engaged long enough to hit the bridal salons. It has more than 300 photos of classic styles, including many pictures of wedding dresses worn by celebrities such as Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Liv Tyler, Jennifer Lopez and Diana, Princess of Wales.

QUIZ KID What do you give a star high school or college student? How about Ken Jennings’s Brainaic: Adventures in the Curious Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs (Villard, $24.95), or Bob Harris’s Prisoner of Trebekistan: A Decade in Jeopardy! (Crown, $23.95), two books by former quiz -show champions who have proved that it pays to remember what you learned in school? www.ken-jennings.com

A SHORT STORY LOVER Know someone who always turns first to the short story in The New Yorker? Consider wrapping up the sparkling Noël Coward: Collected Short Stories (Methuen, $17.95, paperback), a 1999 book available from online retailers and others. One of its advantages as a gift is that even the most ardent short-story lovers tend not to own it (or even know that the celebrated English playwright also wrote some of the finest stories of the 20th century). Also highly recommended: Elisa Albert’s How This Night Is Different: Stories (Free Press, $18), a collection of stories about young Jews struggling to fine meaning in the traditional customs and activities of their faith. www.elisaalbert.com

A TODDLER In an ideal world, every toddler would own We’re Going on a Bear Hunt (McElderry, $17.95, ages 1-6), a picture book full of elements young children love, including animals and nature sounds. First published in 1989, this version of the classic tale was illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, two-time winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal, England’s equivalent of the Caldecott. If a toddler on your list already owns a copy, consider Five Little Ducks (Orchard, $12.99, ages 1-6), a new version of the nursery rhyme with sunny illustrations by Ivan Bates.

AN UNEMPLOYED EXECUTIVE Barbra Ehrenreich writes about her effort to find a white-collar job in Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuite of the American Dream (Owl, $13, paperback), a scathing portrait of a “transition industry” full of career coaches, resume consultants and others who may offer little in exchange for their steep fees. Ehrenreich never found the kind of job she wanted but offers a more realistic look at unemployment than many authors who tell job-seekers, often cruelly, that being fired is “the best thing that ever happened to you.” www.barbaraehrenreich.com

A VERMONTER (OR VERMONTER-AT-HEART) Noel Perrin admits Vermont has “a rotten climate” and other drawbacks as a place to live. But his love for his state – and for New England in general – shines in Best Person Rural: Essays of a Sometime Farmer (Godine, $24.95), an eloquent collection of essays on such topics as calving, maple sugaring, and the influx of tourists, introduced by Terry Osborne.

A WOMAN OF A CERTAIN AGE Nora Ephron takes on all those books about mellow menopause I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman (Knopf, $19.95), a collection of blunt and witty essays on getting older and related topics.

AN X-RATED TALKER Okay, movies no longer have the “X” rating. But a lot of us still have at least one friend whose off-color jokes all seem to have originated back in a fraternity house. You’ll find plenty more of those politically incorrect lines-to-make-you blush in Steve Ochs’s National Lampoon Jokes Jokes Jokes: Collegiate Edition (National Lampoon Press, $10.75, paperback). Just don’t encourage the recipient to read your gift aloud at your holiday dinner.

YOUR CHILD’S SOCCER COACH The World Cup: The Complete History (Aurum, $24.95) isn’t a narrative history but an encyclopedia of every World Cup from the 1930 to 2006. Author Terry Crouch complied this book late enough to include all the 2006 qualifiers but not the winner. So your child’s soccer coach may be amused to learn that because of their “solid defense and slick counter attack,” the Italian team members look like “good bets to get to the last four this time.”

A ZEN CHILD Know a child whose parents do yoga, don’t eat meat, and see themselves as Buddhists in spirit? Track down the 2005 picture book Zen Shorts (Scholastic, $16.95, ages 4–8), which tells three classic Zen tales, wrapped around the story of a giant panda who befriends two young boys and their sister. Author John Muth says the panda is “based partly on the Zen artist/teacher Sengai Gibbon (1750–1838), whose drawings were used as gentle teaching tools.”

Finally, dare I suggest my own first novel, The Accidental Bride (St. Martin’s, 1999), which tells the story of a young reporter who decides to bail out of her over-the-top wedding for 350 guests? Publishers Weekly called the book “a witty and wise comedy of manners that pays homage to Jane Austen” (www.janiceharayda.com/mybooks). And Kirkus Reviews said: “Sparking with wit and humor, this is a story that charms.” And if you put more faith in ordinary readers than critics, here’s what one fan said in the “Reader Reviews” on Amazon, www.amazon.com. “Not since Bridget Jones’s Diary have I laughed like this! I loved this book — I found myself excited to crawl into bed at the end of the day and read. It let me drift off into another place and leave the stress of my day behind — the definition of a succesful book! Especially great if you are a Jane Austen fan.”

Watch for other gift book lists later in the season on One-Minute Book Reviews, including the Last-Minute Holiday Gift Book List and the Grandparents’ Guide to Gift Books for Children. Please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed to avoid missing these posts.

© 2006 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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