By Alex Morrison, Colorado Review Associate Editor
The holiday season approaches, and maybe you are unsure about what to give your friends. You know that a book always makes a good gift, but if you are like me, you tend to give books that you want to read, have read, or think that the recipient should read. Too seldom have I tried to tailor the book to the actual person, but this is the year that changes. So here are five wonderful gifts for five different friends in your lives:
This is the friend who in middle school read the unabridged version of The Count of Monte Cristo or cherished all 960 pages of Gone with the Wind. For this reader, the grander a story’s scope, the better. And there have been few novels published in the last twenty years that are more ambitious, imposing, and rewarding than Jaume Cabré’s Confessions (2014). Although his work has been well known in Catalonia for decades, Confessions is Cabré’s first novel to be translated into English. In it, a man recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s considers his life retrospectively before losing his memories to the disease. The novel reaches as far back as the Spanish Inquisition, through Nazi Germany, Franco’s Spain, and to the dawn of the New Millennium. It is a monumental piece, and the first chance for readers in this country to encounter Cabré’s work.
There is a certain sense of delight and fulfillment in being able to read an entire story in one sitting. Whether you are used to a shorter format, such as a newspaper or magazine article, don’t have the time to commit to an entire novel, or simply want a bit of variety, the short story is an at-once gratifying art form. Some of the most enthralling short story collections strive to expose the reader to a wide range of settings and characters, none more so than Nam Le’s The Boat, published in 2008 and winner of the Dylan Thomas Prize. Le, born in Vietnam, is an Australian writer whose own story is as riveting as the fiction he crafts, having come to Australia as a boat refugee when he wasn’t yet a year old. The Boat encompasses a similar theme of survival, taking the reader from New York to Tehran, Colombia to Hiroshima, Australia to Iowa City, and elsewhere. There is a sense of danger in these stories, as well as self-exploration, and each is a stand-alone piece that won’t soon leave you.
Gigi Griffis’s books are not your conventional travel guides. She collects the personal testimonies of locals and shapes her advice around the first-person narratives of those who know best. This way, each restaurant recommendation, for instance, has a story behind it—something personal to set Griffis’s travel books apart from so many others. For your friends consumed by wanderlust, I recommend Griffis’s volumes on Italy, France, and Switzerland, where “100 Locals Tell You,” among other things, “Where to Go, What to Eat, and How to Fit In.” She has also published travel guides on cities such as New York, Barcelona, Paris, and Prague, in which ten locals share their intimate experiences regarding their own hometowns.
Peter Mendelsund’s book Cover (2014) showcases the incredible talent of a “much-sought-after” book designer and art director who has enjoyed years of success in the world of graphic design. This book is, just as its title implies, a collection of his various covers, from Dostoevsky to Kafka to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. More than simply presenting his work, however, Mendelsund explains the story behind the process, from creation to implementation. He gives advice to aspiring designers, writing, “But one does find, (out in the world) that one has to, at some point, cease envisioning—which is to say that things must sometimes be made.” In both content and presentation, Cover is an innovative showcase of the diverse beauty of books.
Here in Fort Collins, we take our beer seriously. According to Beer West magazine, our mid-sized city “produces 70 percent of Colorado’s craft beer and is home to the most micro-breweries per capita in the state.” Much of that production can be attributed to New Belgium Brewing, but there are nineteen other breweries in Fort Collins of all shapes and sizes, accounting for one craft brewery per every 7,600 residents. What is not as well known, however, is the quality and quantity of fantastic local eateries. In 2015 Christina Marie, who received her PhD in culinary tourism from Colorado State University, decided to write a cookbook that combines Colorado, food, and beer, titled Cooking With Beer in Colorado: 75 Collaborative Recipes from Fort Collins’ Best Chefs and Brewers. The cookbook features food and beer pairings as well as recipes in which beer is a prominent ingredient. Behind each dish and drink is a story from the chef and brewmaster, as this book is as much about people, and Fort Collins, as it is about food and beer.