Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Book reviews and gift-giving

I've been reading the year's best reviews and lists over the last few days, and a few things caught my attention in The New York Review of Books. The first item jumped out at me from a big red full-page Houghton Mifflin holiday ad: the book at the top of the page is Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion (the blurb quotes The Economist review, "...a particularly comprehensive case against religion."). An interesting choice for gift-giving, I must say, at this most non-secular time of year. I haven't seen the book itself, so I can't comment on its contents, I can only conjur up an image of the dying dinosaur of the old scientific paradigm. I don't think I'd care to receive this in my stocking on the 25th; it seems more like a late-January or early-February book, when a bit of nihilism is standard fare.

Interestingly, I think, another ad from Houghton Mifflin a few pages later (this one in black and white, and smaller) leads off with Lee Smolin's The Trouble with Physics: The Rise of String Theory, the Fall of Science, and What Comes Next. And follows with Robert Richardson's biography of William James. Those I might want to read.

Toward the back of the same issue, I see a sidebar ad for those very classy NYRB classics. The good folks there have reprinted several of the works of Patrick Leigh Fermor, and heading the list are my very favorites, A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, about his walking journey across Europe. I think these would be a fine addition to one's Christmas list. The NYRB site even has them listed for 25% off.

I realize that I'm noticing and recommending books from the ads, rather than from the reviews. I can only come to this humbling conclusion: the ads have pictures of books. Which I like. I am so simple.

On to The New York Times Book Review, which has a big fat sidebar ad for the complete OED, "Now only $895.00" - I'll take two dozen! The OED for all my friends!

Later, I see a few books I'd like to read, should they ever cross my desk: A.N. Wilson's biography of John Betjeman (a real review), E.H. Gombrich's A Little History of the World (another ad), The Ode Less Travelled by Stephen Fry (ad), a new book about Winslow Homer (review, but there's a picture of the actual book in it), and for curiosity's sake, Sound Bites by Alex Kapranous, the lead guy in the band Franz Ferdinand, about the food he eats on tour around the world (review, quite good, and I do like to read about food adventures).

I never did find an issue of the year-in-review TLS, sadly. I assume it came and went at the local Borders. The poor harassed clerk looked at me and said, "I just don't know, and no, no one else here knows either," when I asked her when it came in every week. I didn't have the heart to argue with her (Someone must know!) No other bookstore within reasonable driving distance carries it. I really must break down and subscribe one of these days. Even though it doesn't usually have lots of pictures of books in it.

Almost finished with my holiday shopping, such as it is - a few books left to go.

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