Stocking stuffers and mind expanders
If you’re reading BookPage, it’s a safe bet that at least someone on your holiday shopping list will be unwrapping a book this season, but it can be hard to match the perfect selection to its ideal reader. For your consideration, here are a few fascinating and quirky books that are sure to delight the right recipient.
Photographer Christopher Boffoli places tiny human statues amid food and creates a world unlike any other in Big Appetites: Tiny People in a World of Big Food. Each photo is offset by a caption that’s funny, thoughtful or both. The cover shot of a woman using a push mower to cut lengthy strings of peel from an orange takes on emotional zing inside the book: “It was so like Patty: right idea, wrong execution.” On other pages, impatient commuters wait for a late bus on a stalk of celery, and tourists marvel at a Stonehenge made of Rice Krispies treats. Organized into six courses, from breakfast through dessert plus drinks and a snack, Big Appetites blends the creative spark of single-panel comics with sculpture and photography to create something new and lively. You’ll have cause to laugh and think, and almost surely do a double-take the next time you open the fridge.
As a kid did you obsessively save your allowance to spend it on My Little Pony accessories? Crack open a Magic 8-Ball to see if the fluid inside was Windex? Or were you obsessed with the board game Mousetrap and its infuriatingly breakdown-prone 3-D board? If any of this rings a bell, you’re going to love Toy Time!. Author Christopher “The Toy Guy” Byrne highlights toys from the 1950s through the ’80s, looking at how they worked, what drove their popularity, and where they ended up. Many, from Crayola crayons to Play-Doh, LEGO blocks and Silly Putty, have endured and are still beloved. Some toys fell out of favor due to user injuries that may have been real, but might also have been the stuff of urban legend. While plastic “clackers” likely did cause a number of bruises, Byrne notes that there are still places to buy them online. (He covers himself by adding, “If you go there, you’re on your own.”) The gorgeous layout and glossy photos on retro pastel backdrops make every page pop, and Byrne’s thorough research and gum-snapping take on these treasures make for a fun time. Read it to your G.I. Joes on a frosty afternoon while baking something tiny in your Easy-Bake Oven.
BEHIND CLOSED DOORS
The Secret Museum takes readers into museums the world over, but not the parts that are open to the public. The treasures on display here are archived out of public view, but author Molly Oldfield gained access and got the skinny on these “secret” items. A Gutenberg Bible printed on vellum (calfskin) in New York City’s Morgan Library & Museum seems a sensible thing to keep out of harm’s way, but why is the New York Public Library bogarting a letter opener made from the paw of Charles Dickens’ cat? Oldfield, host of the BBC program “QI” (Quite Interesting), turns to the experts to place these items in historical context. As a result, The Secret Museum is chockablock with fun facts and trivia about everything from native Brazilian religious customs to Queen Victoria’s dental fetish. It’s a world tour and gazetteer in one, and a fine place to get lost for a day or two.
Would you rather read a book that educates and entertains, or one that provokes serious contemplation? If the latter is your cup of tea, here’s good news: The Book of Questions is back, in a revised and updated edition. The basic format’s the same—it’s literally a book with a question on each page—but the ethics and morals probed now reflect the impact technology has had in the 25 years since the book’s first appearance. Author Gregory Stock includes follow-ups below some questions for deeper rumination; after asking about the most outrageous thing you’ve ever done, there’s this: “Do you wish you’d been more or less cautious in your life?” The Book of Questions is a quick icebreaker when passed among new friends, but it can also take established relationships much deeper. You can read the book in order, tackling a question each day, or simply open at random and see where it leads you.