As the shopping days left until Christmas dwindle like leaves on storm-blown trees and rain pelting down in the Bay Area dissuades you from going on a wet and wild shopping expedition, don’t despair! Just finish checking off names on your Christmas gift list while sitting in the comfort of your home and giving the gifts that keep on giving: Books purchased on-line from Book Passage
And don’t forget that the Twelve Days of Christmas starts on Christmas Day and runs through January 5th, the eve of Epiphany, giving you a dozen more days to get that special gift book wrapped and delivered!
Here are my top ten choices for holiday gift books, all from writers and photographers with close ties to the San Francisco Bay Area. Each book is either on my own bookshelf or has been lent out by me to a lucky friend. All are available in either hardcover or paperback.
A Novel Novel For Novel Readers
Christmas shopping and holiday partying has probably left your friends and family feeling brain-dead, so what could be a better gift than a new novel all about Zombies (who are taking over the literary world from the former first-place ghouls, vampires)? Send those near and dear to your heart a copy of Dead Love by poet, travel writer, and novelist Linda Watanabe McFerrin. (Linda has written or contributed to several books, runs Left Coast Writers literary salon, and has served on the faculty of the top-notch annual Travel, Food & Photography Conference, both held at Book Passage).
For Chicks Who Like Lit
What’s love got to do with it? The “chick-lit” fans on your gift-giving list will love Searching For Tina Turner, a debut novel (and I’m hoping that one day soon it will become a major motion picture) by Jacqueline E. Luckett, just one of many local writers who have taken advantage of Book Passage’s great classes for authors.
Get Passionate About Pinot
Did the quirky 2004 movie Sideways bring Pinot Noir to prominence on the palate of someone you know? Whether their personalities match those of any of the movie’s main characters – Miles, Jack, Maya, or Stephanie – they will be forever yours if you give them Passion For Pinot: A Journey Through America’s Pinot Noir Country to grace their coffee table.
My mentors, award-winning photographers Robert Holmes from Marin County and Andrea Johnson of Portland (both of whom have taught at the Book Passage Travel, Food & Photography Conference which Robert co-chairs each year) collaborated with wine writer Jordan Mackay to tell the history, with words and pictures, of America’s love affair with this sometimes fickle and sensitive wine grape varietal.
Sex, Drugs, and Quantum Physics
“…Ryan McNear submits a patent for the soul disguised as a software algorithm and his best friend Foster Reed rewrites Genesis and calls it a ‘power generator.’…a desperate Ryan discovers that…his old friend Foster is developing his patent. What he thought was a joke is generating stacks of money amid claims that it will provide a source of limitless energy and prove the existence of God.”
Holy Toledo! Be sure to put this under the tree for your favorite scientist or sci-fi fanatic. (Ransom Stephens was a featured speaker at the July 2010 meeting of the Left Coast Writers literary salon at Book Passage).
Saving The Bay For Christmas
It wouldn’t be “The Bay Area” if there was no San Francisco Bay smack in the middle of it. (Believe it or not, there actually was a plan to fill-in nearly the entire Bay, leaving just a piddling little river running through it).
Award-winning non-fiction writer, poet, editor, and Berkeley native John Hart teamed up with another Bay Area resident, travel and nature photographer David Sanger, to take you from the Golden Gate to the Delta in their great coffee-table book San Francisco Bay: Portrait of An Estuary, and in the process demonstrate the importance of preserving the largest estuary on the West Coast of the United States. (I purchased my copy from the little bookstore at the Bay Model Visitor Center where I work as a docent-tour guide, but you can get yours more easily from Book Passage).
Power To the People On Top Of The World
Love’s labors lost, dealing with a brilliant brother whose life is spinning out of control, the Nepalese monarchy resisting a popular a democratic movement, all play out high in the Himalayas in Snake Lake, the latest book by Jeff Greenwald, author of Shopping for Buddhas.
Legendary travel writer Tim Cahill (who wrote Jaguars Ripped My Flesh, Pecked To Death By Ducks, and many other rollicking stories of life on the road) says of Snake Lake: “Funny, informative, sad and precise, this is the best new travel narrative I’ve read in years.” (Jeff read from Snake Lake at the November 2010 meeting of Left Coast Writers).
This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is My Land
Those lyrics, from one of America’s most famous folks songs, were written by Woody Guthrie. If Guthrie were alive today and living in the San Francisco Bay Area, he might have re-written the first verse of the song like this:
“This land is your land, This land is my land, From San Mateo to Marin County, From the Golden Gate to the Point Reyes waters, This land was made for you and me.”
Amy Meyer, co-author with Randolph Delehanty of New Guardians For The Golden Gate: How America Got a Great National Park, is one determined San Franciscan. She started out with a modest goal in mind: Block the federal government from sticking a boxy building in her neighborhood near Lincoln Park and the Legion of Honor fine art museum. Working with Sierra Club President Edgar Wayburn (whose memoir is fittingly entitled Your Land And Mine: Evolution of a Conservationist), San Francisco Congressman Phillip Burton, and countless others (including me, whose very minor role in helping get the steam tug Hercules into the park’s Hyde Street Pier historic ship collection is set out at page 227 of the book), Amy helped create tens of thousands of national parkland right here within the urban and suburban confines of the Bay Area: The Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
Those who have hiked, biked, or simply enjoyed the grand views in and around the coast north and south of the Golden Gate should have this book to remind them why those of us living in the Bay Area are blessed with so much beautiful public land in which to spend our leisure time.
An Erased Country
Type in “Tibet” in Google, then click on “Maps” and you get “Tibet, China.” Look at Wikipedia. Is Tibet a country, part of China, or both? If you asked native Tibetans, they probably would tell you that Tibet remains a sovereign country, ruled from India by the Dalai Lama, who fled into exile when the Chinese invaded in 1959. Very confusing.
To get a better understanding of how this mountainous part of Asia has evolved over time, pick up Sky Train: Tibetan Women on the Edge of History by Canyon Sam. Sam, a third-generation Chinese-American born and raised in San Francisco, went to Tibet to work on an oral history project in 1990. In 2007, she returned to Tibet by taking the Sky Train from Beijing to Lhasa, traveling at elevations over 16,000′ above sea level along the world’s highest railroad line. During her travels she met the Dalai Lama; he would later write a forward to Sky Train.
Sky Train traces the lives of four of the Tibetan women Canyon met over a decade earlier, and reveals how “modernization” has vastly changed Lhasa and its people. It’s clear from her book that “Tibet” really no longer is a place. As her last words of the story say, ‘”Tibet” is a state of mind.” After nearly twenty years of persistent effort, Canyon Sam succeeded in getting this story of Tibet presented to the world.
I met Canyon Sam at a Book Passage “Blogging For Authors” class in the summer of 2009. I am pleased to report that she received a 2010 Open Book Award for Sky Train from the PEN American Center. As I was writing this blog post Canyon e-mailed with even more exciting news: “I won a fellowship from the film arts organization, the Center for Asian American Media, to work with a film professional to write a screenplay [based on Sky Train].” Canyon received a huge ovation from the packed-house audience when she read from Sky Train at the December 2010 Left Coast Writers literary salon meeting at Book Passage.
Great Central (American) Location!
If you suggested that I take a vacation “South of The Border”, Mexico would immediately come to my mind. If you said, “No, go even further south”, I’d be thinking “Costa Rica” (or maybe Brazil or Argentina). And if you told me to pick a place to learn about Mayan culture, Cancun and the Yucatan Peninsula would have been on the top of my “go-to” list. But then I bought Guatemala: A Journey Through the Land of the Maya by travel writer Michael Shapiro and photographer Kraig Lieb and discovered that my brain had me headed to the wrong places.
Viewing Lieb’s superb photos and learning from Shapiro’s text that twenty distinct tribes of Mayans, each with its separate language, traditions and colorful clothing designs, are alive, and well in Guatemala, convinced me that Central American country should be my destination. And the great thing about Michael and Kraig’s book is that I can go to Guatemala whenever I like, by just picking it up off my coffee table. What a travel bargain!
Professional photographer Robert Holmes (collaborator on Passion For Pinot, which I reviewed earlier in this blog post) called the book “a stunning portrait of this Central American country”, and prolific guidebook publisher Arthur Frommer says it’s “hauntingly beautiful.”
Michael Shapiro is both an graduate of and a instructor at the annual Book Passage Travel, Food & Photography Conference. He is also the author of the award-winning book A Sense of Place: Great Travel Writers Talk About Their Craft, Lives and Inspiration. His stories have run in Afar, National Geographic Traveler, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, and other publications.
Kraig Lieb has spent over twenty years traveling and photographing the world. His work illustrates numerous Lonely Planet guidebooks and has appeared in The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and TIME Magazine.
Michael Shapiro and Kraig Lieb are both based in Sonoma County, just north of San Francisco.
Hot Off The Wine Press!
My latest literary acquisition, The Wine Seeker’s Guide to Livermore Valley, arrived in Saturday’s mail — an early Christmas gift from fellow member of the Bay Area Travel Writers group, Thomas C. Wilmer.
Tom got into journalism as a copy boy for the West Coast edition of the The Wall Street Journal. Since then his travels around the globe have racked up more miles than two trips to the Moon (the one place he hasn’t been – yet) and back. His Audiolog travel programs have aired on Central California NPR affiliate radio stations for over twenty years. Now you can find him on YouTube (as in this clip about Livermore Valley wineries), too.
Along with my wife and friends, I’ve made many “Economic Stimulus Trips” (that means eating fine food and drinking fine wine) to California’s famous wine-making valleys: Alexander, Napa, Russian River, and Sonoma. I’ve traveled to some of Europe’s top wine regions like the Alsace, Burgundy, and Tuscany. And in October I had a grand time at British Columbia’s Okanagan Wine Festival.
But guess what long-time wine producing region, not far from my home, I’ve never, ever, ever, set foot in? If you guessed the Livermore Valley, you’re right. And what’s amazing about my failure to get there is that the very first wine I drank when I came to California back in 1968 was Pinot Chardonnay from the family-owned Wente Vineyards (covered at page 141 of Tom’s book) which has been in business since 1883. So I’m excited over the prospect of sitting down with The Wine Seeker’s Guide to Livermore Valley to plan my next wine tasting excursion once the chaos of the Christmas and New Year’s holidays subsides. (Click here to read a review of the book in the Oakland Tribune’s InsideBayArea).