Do your friends really need another fruitcake this year? When in doubt, make a holiday gift more personal — and palatable, with one of these great titles.
For those in need of inspiration, look to ”Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud, a Memoir by Cornel West with David Rist (Hay House, Inc. $25.95)”:http://www.thegrio.com/2009/12/cornel-west-talks-to-thegrio-about-his-new-memoir.php “If I can touch one person—you, holding this book right now—to examine the funk and the capacity to love in your own life so that you become more truly you at your best, then I will not have labored in vain.” In this soulful memoir, West’s recounts pivotal moments from his early start as a young schoolyard Robin Hood who made sure that the haves gave to the have-nots when it came to lunch money, to his later transformation into a curious thinker, scholar, and spiritual teacher. For those already familiar with the educator and philosopher and his great works, such as the now classic Race Matters, this unapologetic vista into his life and times will make you respect him that much more, and for the uninitiated, this is the perfect introduction to his wit, compassion, and brilliance.
Award winning novelist Elizabeth Nunez’s latest effort, ”Anna in-Between (Akashic Books, $22.95)”:http://www.amazon.com/Anna-Between-Elizabeth-Nunez/dp/1933354844/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1260971048&sr=1-1, is a small story that tackles some very big themes. Anna, the product of an upper-class Caribbean family, is a divorced book editor living in New York who returns to her island home for a month to spend time with her aging parents. Once there, she discovers that her mother has been silently suffering from breast cancer and that her father, out of fear of losing his wife and a curious respect for her privacy, has chosen not to see the obvious, or address it. Nunez, known for her award winning novel, Prospero’s Daughter, takes this family scenario and artfully manages to weave into it the complexities of societal and cultural differences and boundaries, interpersonal relationships, race, and how one country’s definition of privacy and intimacy differ so greatly from another’s. Anna struggles with what it means to born of one place, but yet be part of another, and she is both blessed and cursed by the exposure to both. As she tries to get her mother treated in America, Anna finds herself caught between cultures as well as the intricate relationship between her parents.
More than just your usual sports bio, ”Sweet Thunder: The Life and Times of Sugar Ray Robinson by Wil Haygood (Alfred A. Knopf $27.95)”:http://www.amazon.com/Sweet-Thunder-Times-Robinson-Borzoi/dp/1400044979/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1260971086&sr=1-1 draws the reader in the way it vividly captures both the history and feel of an era. During the 1940s and ‘50, boxer Sugar Ray Robinson reigned supreme, both inside the ring and out. His skills, a winning balance of light-as-air agility and walloping punches, and his high-style life – the flamingo-colored Cadillac, the handmade suits, his swinging club in Harlem, and his string of famous friends like Miles Davis, Lena Horne, and Langston Hughes, made him a legendary figure. “Sugar Ray Robinson was the first modern prize fighter to take culture—music and grace and dance—into the ring with him,” Robinson was also one of the first black athletes to largely own his fighting rights, something that was unheard of at the time. Haygood, a Washington Post writer and master biographer, paints an intricate portrait of the man in all of his grit and glory.
For the jazz lovers on your list, there are two standouts: ”Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong by Terry Teachout (Houghton Mifflin, $30)”:http://www.amazon.com/Pops-Louis-Armstrong-Terry-Teachout/dp/0151010897 and ”Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original by Robin D.G. Kelley (Simon & Schuster, $30)”:http://www.amazon.com/Thelonious-Monk-Times-American-Original/dp/0684831902. At 475 and 608 pages respectively, these comprehensive biographies dig deep. Pops is culled, in part, from some 650 audio tapes that Armstrong used not only to record his concerts, but all aspects of his life. (It appears that Satchmo loved to tape everything from attempts to seduce his wife to getting stoned in his dressing room after a gig. Can you imagine that reality show now?) Teachout calls Armstrong “The first great influence in jazz. No sooner did he burst upon the scene than other musicians—trumpeter, saxophonists, singers—started imitating him.” Teachout celebrates Armstrong, warts and all. Prize-winning historian Kelley’s bio — greatly enriched by his unprecedented access to Monk family papers and private recording — goes where other biographies have been unable to. This book is a very special treat for fans of the enigmatic musician who have been waiting for more details of his fascinating life.
If you are looking to give a Michael Jackson-related book, and I mean a visual tribute, not a breakdown of the salacious details of his life, there are, of course, several options. One choice, ”Michael Jackson: Before he was King by Todd Grey (Chronicle Books, $29.95)”:http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Michael-Jackson/Todd-Grey/e/9780811875066, may only track the singer for about 10 years of his life (starting from around 1974), but it has a touch of the personal that is purely appealing. Grey, one of the only black photographers on the rock music scene at the time, slowly, but surely, made his way into Jackson’s inner circle. Very close in age to MJ, Grey was, for a time, the singer’s official photographer. Many of his images and accompanying text offer an intimate peek at the legend. Of Jackson, Grey writes, “My inner child sprang out of me—this just happened on its own as I spent more and more time with Michael, who had the uncanny ability to bring out this quality in almost everyone around him.”
The great thing about giving the gift of a good cookbook is the chance that you will be invited over to the recipient’s home one day to try out a few new dishes. ”New American Table by Marcus Samuelsson (Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated, $40)”:http://www.amazon.com/New-American-Table-Marcus-Samuelsson/dp/047028188X is the celebrated chef’s tribute to the diversity of American cuisine. Samuelsson crisscrosses the country to offer readers more than 300 recipes, including classics as well as interesting interpretations on standard fare, like grits with wild mushroom and jerk-spiced catfish with papaya salad. With its beautiful photographs, the book is a pleasure, even if you don’t know how to boil water.